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Title: 9. Hot Time in the Old Town
Series: The TOC Files
Word Count 6874
Summary On their own time, the members of the TOC chase after a wanted man and become wanted themselves



IX. Hot Time in the Old Town


The four watched as the transport ship lifted into the air. "Well, that's the last of him," said one.

"I wouldn't be so sure," remarked the man with glasses.

"He's been sentenced to life on a penal colony. How can he get out of that?"

"Gil's right. You don't know Cameron James as well as we do, Eric. He's already escaped twice and I wouldn't put it past him to do it again."

"But he'll be on a transport ship in the middle of space! How could he do it?"

"I don't know, but if anyone could it would be him."

"If Alan said there's a strong possibility, you can believe it," said the girl. "After all, he knows Cameron better than the rest of us."

"Somehow that doesn't comfort me, Shannon," remarked Eric.

"It wasn't supposed to."

* * * *

Five days out, the transport pirates set upon ship. "Christ! What do they think they're doing?" cried the navigator. "We're just a prison ship!"

"Yeah, with the most infamous space pirate on board," remarked the co-pilot.

"You mean they're trying to rescue him?"

"Looks like they're doing better than that. Hold on, they're going to ram us!"

The prisoners were thrown from their seats and cried out in fear--except for two. Devlin, the pirate captain cheered his mates and began to pound on the door that separated them from the crew's quarters. Cameron James watched quietly. He didn't mind if he died; he would still get the last laugh on Kelly. However, he saw a way out. He walked over to Devlin. "You'll never make it out that way. Everything's computerized."

Devlin turned on him. "I'm no fool, man! This way my men can find me and let me out."

"But wouldn't it be better if you met them? That would prove you can do some things by yourself." Devlin bristled, but Cameron continued calmly. "Of course, you really don't need to prove it, but some of your followers might lord over the fact that they had to rescue you from a room where you were pounding on the door, crying to be let out."

Devlin saw the logic in this. "What can you do?"

Cameron pointed at a panel that was flush with the wall beside the door. "There. That is the control panel. Disable that and you'll be able to move the door."

"You're a smart one."

"I think so," he agreed smugly.

"You will join me. You can help the crew of Diablos become the most-feared bunch of pirates in the universe."

"Aren't they already?"

Devlin laughed. "What are you here for, anyway?"

"Attempted murder, kidnapping, fraud, conspiracy, oh, and treason."

"You're Cameron James, aren't you?"

"The same."

"What a stroke of luck, you 'n' me on the same ship like this."

"If anything, it's bad luck. I didn't really plan on being here at all."

"Yeah, but if we weren't together, we be stuck back there," he said, pointing at the prisoners' quarters.

They met up with some of Devlin's crew who welcomed their captain with hearty slaps on the back. They were wary of Cameron, however. "He's joining us. He has many connections and'll be able to get a good price for all our goods." With that announcement, the crew accepted him and they boarded the Diablos and headed for deep space.

* * * *

"I don't want word of this getting out," said Admiral Kotsovitch. "I just received confirmation from the Government."

"But half the Base already knows," said Officer Collins.

"As long as that half doesn't include Kelly and the other TOCs."

"What have I done now?" asked Alan as he entered Pieter's office.

"Where do you want me to start?"

"C'mon, I haven't been in trouble since we came back. The doctors have me so worn out that I'm asleep before I even hit the pillow."

"How's the rehab coming along?"

"Pretty good. A lot of the original soreness and tension have gone and I'm starting to use it without thinking. Now, what were you talking about before I came in?"

"There are quite a few rumors floating around about your next mission."

"Come again?"

"The Government has released to the Military High Command about what you've been doing for them. It's no longer as hush-hush."

"How come they didn't tell us?"

"I thought they had." Kotsovitch was surprised. "I hope I haven't done anything wrong."

"As Collins said, most of the Base knows now anyway." Alan headed for the door. "If you'll excuse me, I have some business to attend to."

Once he shut the door, Kotsovitch sighed. "God, that was close."

Walking down the hall, Alan met Captain Hernandez. "Did you hear the news, Major? A prisoner transport ship was attacked and two prisoners escaped."

"What?"

"A transport--"

"I heard. What was the ship? Do they know who the prisoners are?"

"The Hermes, I think. One of the prisoners was Devlin, the pirate. The other prisoners say that the second was a loner and hardly said a word. What he did say, however, was smart and to the point."

"Hell!" Alan ran down the hall. Hernandez shrugged, not knowing what he had said.

Alan stormed into Gil's lab, which acted as a gathering place for the Temporal Observers. "That complete and utter bastard! If I get my hands on him, he's dead!"

Shannon and Eric looked up from their card game. "What's the matter? Did Jason 'forget' to tell you something?"

"That's beside the point." He was trying to control his anger.

"What did he do?" asked Eric.

"I don't know if it was his doing, but the majority of the Base now knows what we've been doing. I found out through Pieter."

"Do they know about Shannon? If they find out that she's from the 20th century, things'll never be the same," said Eric.

"I don't know."

"Didn't you go talk to him?"

"No, I was too upset. He probably would have made sense and I wouldn't've understood and made a complete fool of myself." He walked around the lab.
"Where's Gil?"

"Off testing something, I think. He was gone when we arrived."

"Great, you're all here." Gil appeared.

"Gil, will you quit playing with those things? I'm not in the best of moods right now."

"I can guess why. I had a feeling it would happen sooner or later, so I was making some adjustments." He handed them the time machines. "What I've done is attune them to your individual biochemistry so no one else will be able to use them. Once you have them on, press the little blue button and then they'll only work for you." He smiled, proud of his accomplishment.

"That's great!" declared Eric.

"So, if anyone like Cameron steals them, they won't work."

"Exactly," said Gil. "Didn't I just say that?"

"Why do you have Cameron on the brain? He's probably shoveling dirt somewhere," Shannon told him.

"He's escaped," Alan said softly.

"What? How could he?"

"As far as I can guess, they were attacked by pirates out to rescue Devlin. Somehow, Cameron must have wormed his way into Devlin's good graces and left with him."

"Who told you?" asked Gil.

"Hernandez. I don't think we were supposed to know. Before I walked into Pieter's office, I heard him say something like 'as long as Kelly doesn't find out.' When he found out I was there, he tried to cover it up by telling me that the Government has let the public know about the TOC."

"I think we should confront Jason with it," Eric said.

"With what? Cameron or public knowledge?"

"Cameron, of course. He's an escaped criminal after all."

Alan smiled. "I think you're right. Shall we go?"

They barged into Jason's office. "We'd like to talk to you," said Gil.

Jason looked up calmly from his desk. "You found out, eh?"

"Of course we did. Word spreads on a Military Base," remarked Alan, keeping his temper in check.

"I tried to talk them out of it, make them wait a little longer, but I was overruled. I was on your side the whole time."

They looked questioningly at each other. "What are you talking about?" asked Shannon.

"The Government and the release of the news of your activities. Isn't that what you came to talk about?"

"No. Something more important than that," Eric told him.

"What could be more important?"

"C'mon, Jason, don't play around. You know very well what we're talking about," said Alan.

"I swear, I have no idea."

"Our worst nightmare has come back to haunt us."

"Come again?"

"Cameron's done it again."

"Christ! How did he manage it this time?"

"He became friendly with Devlin and escaped with him when his friends came to rescue him."

"You mean you didn't know?" asked Eric. "Practically the whole Base does."

"But Government offices function differently from the Military."

"Yeah, they're slower," Alan muttered.

"So, what do you expect me to do?"

"Give us clearance to go after him."

"I don't have that kind of authority. You should know that. Every time you guys pull something, they turn the heat up on me. I'll certainly be well done after this escapade. So, if you want me to keep my job, you'll leave this for the Galactic Police."

Alan sighed. "I guess we owe you at least that much." He started for the door. "I guess we've done all we can."

The other s looked at him. The man had flipped! They said good-bye to Jason and followed Alan. "What are you up to?" asked Gil. "I've never seen you give up so easily."

Alan looked at him with a crooked smile. "Who said anything about giving up? We have vacation time coming, don't we? We'll be on our own time and neither the Military nor the Government can control our actions."

"Neat, very neat," Eric said appreciatively. "You are a man to be reckoned with."

"Thank you. I try."

"Yeah, but how are we going to leave?" asked Shannon. "Since we'll be on vacation, we won't be able to use any Military ships and I don't think any commercial flights go to the places we need to."

"There's a modified jet just waiting for us."

"You can't mean the Hawk. She barely made it back to the Dreadnought. I'm surprised they haven't scrapped her yet."

"You underestimate Ranger mechanics, Eric. Besides, she's a classic, a one-of-a-kind. She looks pretty good. I saw her the other day."

"And you have a plan to sneak out with it," stated Gil.

"It's simple. We go off on leave then use the machines to meet at the Hawk day after tomorrow in the morning. Then we take off."

"Sure, that's all there is to it," said Gil sarcastically.

"It'll work. We just have to choose places where it'll be hard to track us down," said Alan.

"I could go home to Dublin," Shannon said.

"That's the idea. I've a free pass to the air show on Beta Minor. The organizer's a friend."

"Sounds, great," said Eric. "Can I join you?"

"Fine with me." He turned to Gil. "What about you?"

"I've always wanted to meet Da Vinci. Or maybe Galileo. Possibly Einstein..."

"Whoever. We'll meet in the auxiliary hangar at 0700 day after tomorrow."

* * * *

They met as planned inside the hangar. Alan was there first and cautioned the others about the guards. "They come by about every 20 minutes or so. First we get inside and check all functions. We then wait for the guards to leave before we take off."

"How will we open the doors? If we do it too early, the guards will notice unless they're blind," whispered Shannon.

"I'll wait until you guys give the signal to open them."

"Why you?" asked Gil.

"It's Eric's ship, he knows where everything is."

"Why not Shannon or myself?"

"Oh, you're welcome to if you know where the alarm switch is and if you want to run after a moving ship then jump in." He looked at both of them.

"I think I'll conserve my energy until you really need me."

Alan smiled. "Okay, go on."

Shannon, Gil, and Eric ran over to the ship that housed the Hawk and climbed in. "Hello, beautiful," said Eric, patting the controls. "Daddy's back." He flipped a switch and checked that all the controls were working. "Shannon, I want you to watch that panel there and tell me when it reaches 100."

"Okay."

"What can I do?" asked Gil.

"That panel to your left shows read-outs of the weapons. Check to see if they're up to capacity."

"Aye, aye, Captain."

Eric looked out the front window and saw Alan waiting for the guards to leave. "How are we?"

"80%." said Shannon.

"The weapons are go," Gil told him.

"Great. When Shannon says 100, we disconnect the fuel line."

"Can we do that from inside?" asked Shannon. "90%."

"At the push of a button."

"Good. 95%." Eric poised his finger over the button. "100%."

Eric pressed the button. "Okay." He signaled Alan.

Alan nodded. The guards were almost done. One paused to light a cigarette. "You shouldn't be smoking in here," said the other.

"Yeah, but the shift's almost over and I'll be outta here."

"Me too. Gotta spare?" The two left.

Alan pounced on the alarm switch and Eric turned on the engines and started taxiing towards the doors. Alan pushed the "open" button. Nothing. He swore and pushed it again. Eric was getting closer. He kicked the control box and the doors slid open. He waved for the Hawk to hurry through. He then pushed the button to close the doors. The Hawk was picking up speed and Alan ran and caught up with them on the turn. Gil and Shannon helped pull him aboard. "Go for it, Eric!" he shouted.

"Yessir!" The Hawk lifted into the early morning sky and left on its personal mission.

* * * *

Gil was sitting at the radio, listening for any news of pursuit. "The last place they spotted us was Athena."

"We were there two days ago," remarked Shannon. "What are the chances of them finding us?"

"I think they have a general idea of where we're headed, but they'll have to hurry. Once past Galea, the hold of the Military--even the Alliance--dwindles. They hate it out there. They won't follow us," Eric told her.

"How far away is that?"

Alan checked the charts. "One day if we do a quick warp."

Eric looked at the fuel. "We have to re-fuel before we do anything else. We'll put down on Toma."

"Isn't there a Military installation there?" asked Gil.

"Yep. One of the last outposts."

"Then how do you plan to land and fuel up? This ship isn't exactly you everyday run-of-the-mill hauler."

"We say we're on a secret mission," said Eric.

"Yeah, so secret we're the only ones who know about it."

"Gil, I never knew you were such a pessimist."

"I'd like to think of myself as a realist."

"That's the scientist in you," remarked Shannon. "Do you think we'll get away with it?"

"They don't know who took the Hawk, so if we show up, we'll get treated as if nothing happened."

"But what about the Hawk? Where can we land so we're not seen?"

"As they can't see the Hawk, it's not that much of a problem. We can land on the strip farthest from the Base, just in case."

"As long as you guys know what you're doing." Shannon retired to one of the bunks for a rest.

Alan looked at Eric and shrugged. "Sounded like a good explanation to me." He looked at the chart. "How long of a stop-over were you planning?"

"No more than an hour. We might as well stock up on other supplies while we're there."

"The Base has an incoming call from Central."

"Let's hear it."

Gil patched it in over the speaker. <<...the ship was last seen just past Athena. Inside the carrier is the Hawk, a modified flyer from 50 years ago and has prototypical weapons that have not been duplicated. When you see this ship, approach with caution, the crew may be armed and dangerous. Follow movements and notify Central. That is all.>>

Eric laughed. "They don't know it's us yet. Maybe we'll stay a little longer on Toma."

They put down on the far side of the port. "I'm gonna go stretch my legs and do some exploring," said Shannon.

"I'll join you. Who knows the next time we'll be able to take a relaxing stroll," Gil said.

"I'll stay here to keep an eye on the refueling. Meet back here in an hour, okay?" Eric put a cigarette to his mouth and lit it. "Alan, do you wanna get the supplies? We'll need food, mainly. Oh, we'll also need outfits to make us seem slightly disreputable."

"Gotcha. Make 'em look like they're patched together." He left with Gil and Shannon.

Eric attached the fuel line then watched the goings-on.

* * * *

"Sir, we've just gotten a sighting on a ship that matches the description of the ship carrying the Hawk," said a young radio operator.

"Where?" asked the captain. "What quadrant?"

"In the spaceport, sir, the civilian side."

"How did they get by? We've been scanning every ship that passes through Toma airspace." The captain looked at the radar. "Did the report say anything about the Hawk possessing a cloaking device?"

"No, sir, no mention."

"Send some men over there. The crew is vulnerable while refueling. Also send word to Central."

"Yes, sir."

* * * *

Shannon was looking through some used clothes to help complete here new look. She lifted a worn, blue cotton scarf and wrapped it about her neck. "What do you think?"

Gil smiled. "It's you."

Alan picked up the supply bags. "You guys almost done? We've got to meet up with Eric."

"Yeah, just about." Shannon paid for her clothes. "We've got some time left, though. It's nowhere near an hour."

"By the time we get back, it will be." Alan heard running footsteps and went into the bazaar. He saw the soldiers heading for the port. "Christ! I think we'd better go now. I've a feeling Eric's gonna need our help."

They ran along the side aisles to pass the Military. Alan put on a final burst of speed and saw Eric chatting up a young lady of questionable background. "Get your bod movin', Eric! We've got company!" He dumped the supplies inside and grabbed a pistol from the locker.

Gil and Shannon pulled Eric away from the woman. Alan closed off the fuel line and started the engines. The others stood at the open hatch as the soldiers arrived. The sergeant yelled at them. "You are hereby under arrest for the theft of a Military craft! Surrender your arms now or we will be forced to open fire!"

"Ha!" laughed Eric. "This was never a Military ship! Do you see any insignia at all? Course not! I'm merely taking back what is rightfully mine!"

"Alan, you'd better hurry," called Gil. "These guys are itching for action."

"I know," Alan called back. "I'm just waiting for some of the crowd to thin out. I don't want anyone caught in the blast."

"This is your second warning!" yelled the sergeant. "Surrender now!" Eric merely smiled.

"What are you trying to prove?" hissed Shannon.

"Delaying tactics."

"I will count to three...."

"Alan!"

"...One..."

"Almost ready."

"...Two..."

"Hold on!"

"...Three!"

Alan lifted the ship just as they opened fire. The others returned some shots before they were out of range. The hatch was closed and they joined Alan at the controls. "You certainly cut that close," remarked Gil.

"Yeah, but wasn't it great?"

"They'll send our descriptions to Central," said Eric. "We'll no longer be unknown."

****************************

This is Toma Base calling Central. We encountered the crew of the Hawk earlier today. There seemed to be only four of them: three men and a woman. One man claimed the ship was his. They all seemed to be between 25 and 30 Earth years. The woman was about 5'5" with shoulder-length red hair. One man was near 5'10" with light brown hair and glasses. The second man did all the talking. He was tall, almost 6' with black hair. The last man was the pilot, no description. End transmission.

*******************************

They put down on Sirus near twilight. Shannon looked out and did not like what she saw. The port consisted of nothing but two run-down buildings and six landing areas. Everything was dismal and grey. "Some smugglers' paradise."

"It's not like any novel, Shannon. The people here are tough and would kill you rather than take the trouble to talk. They all come here for a reason: to get away from the Law of the Alliance. We've got to act tough ourselves. We have to show no fear, almost no emotions at all." Alan turned to Eric. "Did I leave anything out?"

"Yeah. We keep to ourselves, mind our own business. We don't need to make any enemies. We just have to find Cameron, or, at lease, any information possible."

"What if someone wants to fight us? Do we back down, or agree to the challenge?" asked Gil.

"Try and talk your way out first. If that doesn't work, you'll have to fight. Make sure you kill, though. A wounded enemy can come back and kill you."

They went to the hatch. "It's your show, Eric. You're the ex-mercenary."

Eric led them to the center of Charon, the capital city, and bright lights greeted them. Casinos, bars, and brothels competed for the visitor's attention--and money. It was hard to believe that the port was part of the same city. Eric entered one of the less flashy casinos. "We'd better split into pairs. Shannon, you can come with me. Be careful betting, most of the games are fixed."

Alan bought some chips and decided to try his luck on roulette. Gil was not as daring and chose to watch. Alan knew that, as a newcomer to the game, the House would let him wind a few rounds to build up his confidence--and the amount of the bet. The man next to him, however, had begun to lose heavily and had begun to drink just as much. Alan watched the wheel and the croupier's hands as the wheel slowed. They were cheating the poor drunkard. "I don't mean to tell you your business," he said, "but I think you'd feel a lot better in the morning if you quit now."

The man looked at Alan, his eyes trying to focus. "Whaddya mean?"

"Well, if you keep losing, you'll keep drinking--and vice versa--and you'll hate yourself in the morning."

The man looked at his few remaining chips. "You're right. I guess it would be better if I left while I still have some money." He gathered his chips and waited as Alan did the same. "Name's Davies. You guys are new around here, aren't you?"

"Does it show?" asked Gil.

Davies laughed. "You offered advice to a gambler down on his luck. Everyone here would've let me go broke." He cashed in his chops. "If you need a place to stay, you're welcome at my place. Only a couple of miles out of town." He waved and headed for the door.

"Seems like a nice enough fella," remarked Gil.

"Yeah." Alan looked up from his money and watched as a burly man in dress clothes accosted Davies at the door. "The people here don't seem to think so. Keep an eye on my stuff." He went to help Davies. "Need any assistance?" he asked as he came up to his newfound friend.

"Mind your own business, pip-squeak," said the hulk at the door. "I was takin' Mr. Davies to see the Boss."

Pip-squeak! Nobody called him pip-squeak and got away with it! "Seems to me like he doesn't want to go. Doesn't seem quite right, does it?"

The bouncer looked around at the audience that they had attracted. The "credibility" of the "establishment" would be lowered if he let this green newcomer get the better of him. He looked him over. One punch should do it. "Shall we step outside?"

"Lead on." Alan followed him out.

Shannon and Eric joined Gil. "What does he think he's doing?" asked Eric. Gil shrugged his shoulders as they made their way to the windows to watch the fight.

Alan looked the man over. He definitely was a hulking brute. He would have to make up for it with speed and cunning. The man made a lunge but Alan sidestepped and landed a blow on his back. He recovered quickly and made another lunge. Alan repeated his move. That was one thing about hulking brutes: they took forever to catch on. Alan tired the man out, got him off-balance, then landed a punch on his chin, and he fell to the ground. Alan wiped his hands and walked over to Davies. "I think they'll let you go home now."

The people parted and Alan smiled as he joined the others. "What were you trying to prove?" asked Eric.

"I'll explain later," he said softly. "Right now we'd better get out of here. Davies said we could stay with him. I think that's the best thing."

On the way to Davies' place, Alan explained his reason for fighting. "We need to let them know that, just because we're newcomers, we're not pushovers. What better way to show it than to beat up a guy twice your size?"

"By minding your own business like I told you. I've been here before and may have just made more enemies than friends."

"Your friend is right," said Davies. "It's not that I don't appreciate it, I do. That casino is owned by the Alcalde, who practically runs everything. With him as your enemy, you've made an enemy of almost the whole of Charon."

"Who is this Alcalde?" asked Shannon.

"I don't know. I've never met him. That's where Max was taking me when Alan came over."

"Why would he want to talk to you?" asked Gil.

"I'm the closest thing this place has to a 'pillar of the community'. I guess he feels that with my support, his power wouldn't be so questionable."

"So he hasn't been here long, then?" questioned Eric.

"No, he came in about a couple of weeks ago with his boss." Davies was quiet for a while. "I really should have talked with him."

The TOCs looked at each other. "Why don't you?" said Alan. "I'll go with you, kind of like a bodyguard." Shannon kicked him in the shin. "Ow! We'll all go."

"I guess it couldn't hurt," said Davies. "After all, there's safety in numbers, as the old saying goes."

The next morning they went into Charon and split up outside the Alcalde's casino. They drew some curious glances. No one expected Davies to return, least of all with the four strangers from last night. They each entered separately except for Eric, who moved to the back entrance. Alan and Davies boldly enter the casino and asked to see the Alcalde. They were told to wait in his office. One of the guards informed the Alcalde of his visitor. "What? Davies is here voluntarily?" He turned on the camera that was just outside his door. "And not alone, I see. This is a surprise."

"That is the man who beat up Max."

"Was he alone?"

"I don't think so. There was at least one other man with him."

"Good. Invite Davies in, but keep his 'bodyguard' outside. When he leaves, I want you to pay him back."

"Very good, Alcalde." The man greeted Davies and Alan. "The Alcalde will see you now, Mr. Davies. If you will please go in." Alan made to follow. "Just Mr. Davies. You can wait out here." He shut the door in Alan's face.

Alan swore. This wasn't exactly what he had planned. The door was too thick to be broken down or even blast the lock. Eric had better be on his toes out back. He strolled to the rail that overlooked the casino and spotted Shannon and Gil. He was about to signal them when he heard a shout from the office. He ran back and pounded uselessly on the door. He bounded down the stairs two at a time and ran out into the street. "Damn!" he swore as he saw the car drive away down the road.

Gil and Shannon joined him. "What is it?

"What happened?"

"They kidnapped Davies. There's got to be a back exit. How could I have been so stupid?"

"But what about Eric? Wasn't he posted at the back?"

In answer to Shannon's question, Eric came staggering out of the alley. "They knocked me out!"

"Did you see the Alcalde?" questioned Gil.

"No, nobody."

Alan jumped into a nearby car and drove off at breakneck speed after the Alcalde. Shannon and Gil helped Eric as they entered a bar across the street. It would be a good place to wait for Alan and they could also keep an eye on both entrances to the Alcalde's casino.

* * * *

Alan found the Alcalde's car in the older section of town outside an old house. He left his vehicle down the road out of sight and crept up to peer in the window. There was a chair in the room with its back to him. He could see arms tied to the chair and just the top of a head over the back of the chair. The two thugs took turns hitting the occupant. He could also see that they were yelling, but couldn't hear the words. He had taken on the responsibility of guarding Davies and had failed miserably up to this point.

He turned away from the window and began to plan a rescue. "Lookee what we have here," said a voice that took Alan by surprise.

"We found ourselves a spy," said another that Alan recognized as belonging to Max. "Shall we show him what we do to spies?"

The two men advanced on Alan who had his back against the wall. He pulled out a knife and held it out at arm's length. "We'll have none of that." Max grabbed his hand and forced him to drop the knife. He then held both of Alan's arms behind his back. Alan struggled, but was held fast.

The other man rolled up his sleeves and began to pound on Alan as if he were tenderizing a side of beef. Alan could taste the blood in his mouth, but wasn't sure if it was from his lip or nose. He wasn't sure how much longer he could take it. The man stopped punching. "I think you can let go. I don't think he'll be going anywhere."

Max let go and Alan dropped tot he ground and grunted in pain. He tried to stand, but couldn't even make it up to his hands and knees. Max landed a few well-placed kicks to his chest and back. "That was for last night." As a final gesture, he stepped on Alan's left hand with the heel of his boot and twisted. The two men left Alan alone and vulnerable. He tried to crawl into the building but was overtaken by the weakness the beating caused. He blacked out.

* * * *

Shannon looked up from her meal and across the street. "Hey, aren't those two of the Alcalde's men?"

Gil and Eric watched as the men walked into the casino. "One of them is the guy from last night," remarked Gil.

"But where's Alan? If he was following them, shouldn't he be back?"

"He probably had not to wait for them to leave before he rescued Davies," remarked Eric as he ordered another drink.

"I think we ought to go into the casino and check it out."

"Shannon, he's probably got every inch of that place covered with cameras. He must know that we were with Alan," remarked Gil.

"I don't care. I'm going over." She walked out across the street to the Alcalde's casino. Eric and Gil shrugged, paid the bill, and followed her.

Max knocked on the door. "Come." He entered and the Alcalde looked up from his desk. "Is it done?"

"Yes, sir. We've put him out of commission. He followed just like you said he would."

"Good. Maybe now we can get our guest to listen to reason."

Max left and returned shortly after with Davies in tow. "Ah, Mr. Davies, I'd like to apologize about that display earlier. It was an accident, I do assure you. Now, all I ask of you is to sign this agreement saying that my word is law here and I only have to answer to El Capitain."

"I won't do anything of the sort. And you don't dare do anything to me; the people would never forgive you. Besides, I have a friend waiting outside."

"You mean Alan Kelly. I see you're surprised. Yes, Mr. Kelly and I go back a few years. Well, right now Mr. Kelly is quite indisposed at the moment." Max snickered. "However, if you help me out, you won't need his help."

"No deal. I'll never sign anything giving you power."

"Alcalde," Max called his attention to the monitor. "They were with that man last night."

The screen showed the TOCs watching a game of blackjack. The Alcalde zoomed in on Shannon's face. "I should have known," he whispered. "What do you think of her, Max?"

"She seems different, Alcalde. Never have I seen hair of such a color."

"Yes, she is very different. See if you can get her away from her companions and bring her here."

"Yes, Alcalde."

"Before you do, take him back to his room. We'll talk again later." Max nodded and took Davies away. The Alcalde looked at the screen. "Soon, my dear Miss Flynn. Soon."

"What are you doing?" asked Gil. "We should stick together. We've already lost Alan."

"Ssshhh. You haven't lost me. Besides, if the Alcalde is who we think he is, he's more liable to come for me than either of you." Shannon tried to look alluring yet unattainable.

"She's got a point there," said Eric as he took Gil by the elbow and led him to a table from where they could see Shannon clearly. "At least we know what she's trying to do."

Shannon barely had time to order a drink before Max was standing beside her. "The Alcalde has asked me to invite you to lunch. I am to escort you to his rooms."

"Oh." She made it seem as if such an invitation were an everyday occurrence. "I guess it could be amusing." She followed Max to the stairs leading to the Alcalde's office. As she passed the others, she winked. This is just what she wanted. Max knocked on the door then opened it for Shannon. She entered the room and saw a table set for two with a flower centerpiece, candles, but no Alcalde. "This guy certainly moves fast," she murmured.

"Why, thank you, Miss. Flynn. I knew you'd appreciate it."

Shannon turned to the connecting door. "Somehow I knew the 'Alcalde' had to be you. This whole situation seems to be just your style."

"Would you care to sit down?" She hesitated. "I will be on my best behavior because I know Rader and Connor are with you." He held out her chair and seated her. "It is so rare that I get to share a meal with such a beautiful woman."

"I'm sure being the 'Alcalde', you get lots of women who want to be with you."

"Yes, but in most cases, I don't want to be with them."

"Then you'll understand me when I say I don't want to be with you."

He laughed. "I thought you were being so provocative just to gain my attention. I guess it was just wishful thinking." He took a sip of his wine. "If that was the case, Miss Flynn, why did you accept my invitation?"

"You can put it down to curiosity." She picked at her food.

"Why aren't you eating, Miss Flynn? That's right, you must be worrying about Maj. Kelly." She looked up at him. "Don't worry about him. It won't do any good and only takes away from your looks."

"What have you done with him? He was chasing after your goons who were taking Davies away."

"But, my dear, Davies never left the building. My men were just running an errand for me. If Kelly didn't return, he may have gotten involved in something that even he couldn't get out of."

"Every time I think there's any hope of your becoming a human being, you always show your true colors!" She stormed towards the door.

"I'm afraid that leaving won't be as easy as entering, Miss Flynn," he said as she reached for the doorknob.

She opened the door to see Max blocking her exit. As he reached out his arm, she grabbed it, turned him around, pulling his arm behind his back. She then shoved him towards the Alcalde, knocking the two over. She then ran out of the building. When Gil and Eric caught up with her, she told them what happened. "He still has Davies. Alan went on a wild goose chase. I don't like to think of what could have happened."

"C'mon, this is Alan Kelly we're talking about. The man's a survivor. He can take anything this backwater can dish out," said Gil.

Shannon looked at Eric who merely shrugged. "I hope you're right."

"So do I," murmured Gil as they made their way to Davies' home.

* * * *

The pain was intense. Every move brought agony. He opened his eyes--or rather his eye. He lifted his right hand and felt that his left eye was swollen shut. He raised his left hand to feel his eye and discovered his hand would not move. The circuitry must have been damaged in the fight. The fight! He had to get Davies! He tried to sit up but fell back as the pain shot across his chest. He shouted with pain. A couple of ribs must have broken as well.

The door opened and a young woman ran in. She was of medium height with blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. What struck him the most was the color of her eyes. They were such a pale grey; he almost thought they were white. She reached out her hand and he instinctively pulled back, ignoring the pain. "It's okay, I won't hurt you." Her voice was soft and soothing and her hand cool to the touch. "Just relax and sleep. Let the pain go away." Alan's eyelid flickered shut and he drifted to sleep.

The woman closed the door behind her as she left the room. A younger woman with similar features looked up from her reading. "I don't know why you brought him here, Zia. He could bring us much trouble."

"Or much joy, Tia. He fought the Alcalde's Max last night while helping Mr. Davies. They must have been the ones who did this," she said as she sat across the table from her sister.

"That's what I mean. With him here, that puts us in more danger than before. We can't afford that."

"You always were the practical one," Zia said with a smile. She looked towards the closed door. "But if you think of him as a symbol, he could be a great help. I mean, a stranger to Sirus stands up to the Alcalde's tyranny and is beaten in an alley. It seems as if it were fate."

"The Romantic Rebel. That would make a great portrait. Let's just say I agree with you. How would we let people know about his existence without giving ourselves away? We can't just stand in the middle of the Drag and yell at the top of our lungs 'The Alcalde's a tyrant who beats up strangers! We have proof!'."

"Don't be stupid. We'll figure that out once he's healed. What we should do is get his friends. I think they're staying with Mr. Davies. You bring them here while I keep an eye on our patient."

"Why can't you go?"

"I've had more training as a healer, that's why. Besides, you're faster than I am."

"About time you admitted it." Tia stood and prepared to leave. "I'll go through the Outskirts to keep away from the Alcalde's men."

"Good luck and be careful."

* * * *

"Alcalde."

"What is it, Max?"

"We're getting a report from the man watching Davies' house."

"What does he have to say?"

"The younger Navarre sister is there."

"Oh ho. It seems that our local resistance is looking for allies. Get some of the men together. We are going to the Navarre home to wait for their arrival." He smiled. This could be fun.

Part Two.

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