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Word Count part 2 5828

Sorry I had to break this in two due to length!




Tia tried to convince them that she had not been sent by the Alcalde. "He would like to see my sister and I arrested. He'd love it if we were shot. We have made many attempts to lead a resistance against him, but most of the people are too afraid to speak out."

"Except Davies," said Gil.

"Yes, except Davies. That is why the Alcalde wants him."

"So he told us."

"We also have your friend. My sister recognized him from his fight. You see, he was badly beaten and left for dead near our home."

"Is he okay?" asked Shannon.

"My sister is a qualified healer. We must hurry if we want to make it before dark. The Outskirts are very treacherous then." She headed for the door. Shannon followed.

Gil picked up his holster and started after them. He stopped when he noticed Eric hadn't moved. "Coming?"

"Oh, sure." He slowly put on his holster.

"Something wrong?"

"It just seems too convenient. If she and her sister are known rebels, how come they haven't been arrested?"

"Maybe the Alcalde needs to have proof in order not to make martyrs out of them."

"Yeah, maybe. Let's just play it carefully. She could've been followed."

"Gotcha."

* * * *

The Alcalde and his men closed in on the Navarre apartment. He posted two as lookouts. "Once you see them, fall back. Surprising them at close quarters will be to our advantage." Passing by a window, they could hear voices. Someone was inside. Must be the other sister and one of the rebels. He motioned his men ahead with caution. On his signal, they burst into the apartment, taking Zia by surprise. Alan, still groggy, was vaguely aware of what was going on. He tried to get up, but the pain in his chest was too much. He fell back down.

The Alcalde entered the room and approached Zia. "I haven't seen you in town recently, Zia. Are you avoiding me?"

"As much as possible," she replied, looking him straight in the face. The Alcalde laughed.

Alan, recognizing that laugh, let out a low moan. The Alcalde, noticing the recumbent figure for the first time, moved towards the bed. "Who have we here?"

"A patient," said Zia, trying to keep him from seeing Alan.

"A patient? I forgot you were a healer. What seems to be his problem?"

"A man named James, Senor Alcalde," Alan replied as he turned to look at the man with his good eye.

"You?"

"Hello, Cameron."

"Max!"

"Alcalde?"

"I thought you had taken care of him?"

"He wasn't moving when we left."

"You fools! I guess this means I have to do the job myself." He took Max's blaster and aimed it at Alan. Realizing that Alan was helpless, he hesitated.

"Can't shoot an unarmed man, can you?"

"Of course I can," he blustered. "It would be too quick a death for you. You two, bring him." He looked at Zia. "Her, too."

* * * *

"We're too late," said Tia, as she halted a block away from her apartment. She pointed to the truck into which they were loading a stretcher. "They have your friend and my sister."

"Not to mention Davies," remarked Shannon.

"Where will they take them?" asked Gil. "Back to the casino?"

"No, the Alcalde has a place in the mountains to the south. That's the most logical place."

Gil and Shannon looked to Eric for ideas. "Okay. We know we need to get them out, but, with just the four of us.... We have to do a little reconnaissance and find out the lay of the land, so to speak."

"I know of an ideal spot for watching the house," Tia told them. "We had better take some provisions. I don't know how long we'll be there."

"Good idea," said Eric.

After she was sure everyone had left, Tia led them to the apartment. She took some backpacks out of a closet and directed the others where to find camping gear, extra energy packs for the blasters, plus food.

"How far is it?" asked Shannon.

"Not very. We can take some horses. It's only a few hours."

"Horses!" cried Shannon. "Why not a car or a hovercraft; something faster?"

"We can't afford to attract unnecessary attention. They can monitor the comings and goings of all mechanical vehicles. They can't monitor horses."

"Won't they be conspicuous?" asked Gil.

"Oh, no. You see, it's in a mountainous area where there are a lot of campers."

"And the only way to reach the campground is by horse," finished Eric.

"Exactly," said Tia with a rare smile.

When they were finished packing, Tia led them to a stable where they rented four horses. They walked to the limits of Charon so they could get used to the horses. Shannon couldn't wait to gallop, but Eric and Gil were a bit more hesitant. Tia started them easy and soon they were making good time. The scenery changed from farms and meadows to mountains coated with pine trees. It reminded Shannon of the Northwest wilderness she had seen in American films. "It's gorgeous," she whispered.

Tia nodded. "Zia and I used to come here with our father every year. He loved fishing in the streams." She was quiet for a few minutes, alone with her memories. She shook her head. "Okay, follow me. I hope no one else is using the site."

They made their way up the mountain trail, admiring the scenery. Tia stopped in a clearing. "This is the spot," she announced.

Eric dismounted and tethered his horse to a branch. "Which way to the Alcalde's place?"

"Right beyond those trees. Be careful, there's a sudden drop."

Eric soon discovered she wasn't kidding. There was a small outcrop of land that overlooked the Alcalde's "summer home". Mansion was an understatement; palace or castle was more like it. He pulled out his binoculars and scanned the perimeter. This spot would do just fine.

* * * *

When the truck came to a halt, two of Cameron's men carried Alan through a courtyard and into a side door. Alan guessed that this was Cameron's "country home". He was taken up backstairs to a sparse room. It made Alan think of a monk's cell. On second thought, that would appear decadent compared to this. There was an old metal cot with a thin mattress and blanket and a wooden chair placed against a wall. There was only one window and that was maybe five inches across and positioned near the ceiling. Zia was left with him to make sure he was "settled in" properly. "Someone will be back for you later tonight to take you to your own room," she was told.

"Where are we?"

"The Alcalde's little retreat."

"It looks more like a palace from what I've seen."

"It originally was." She walked around the room. "It was a smart move to bring us here. Away from prying eyes."

"How far away from Charon are we?"

"Miles or hours?"

"Either."

"About 25 miles or so. The mountains here are dotted with campgrounds. My father used to bring my sister and I here quite often. There's also a village where we used to get supplies."

"That must be where Cameron gets his help," he thought aloud. "Pirates don't make good servants."

Zia sat on the chair. "You know the Alcalde." It was a statement.

"Cameron James. He's a wanted man on Earth. He was being transported to a penal colony when he escaped with the pirate Devlin. My friends and I took it upon ourselves to track him down. We came here for information and found the real thing."

"And you can't do anything. My sister went to your friends to bring them to you. She must know that the Alcalde--Cameron--has us. I don't know how they'll find us, though."

"They'll probably check the casino first. Does your sister know about this place?"

"Everyone does. And when you enter, you don't always leave."

"Well, we'll be the lucky ones."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Cameron got the better of me once and I'm not going to let that happen again,"

* * * *

Two days later, Gil was on watch and noticed some heavy local traffic; more village folk than usual were entering the palace. He whistled for Tia to see if she knew of any reason. She was just as surprised. "I have no idea why the Alcalde would have so many villagers going into the palace. He tried to have the least amount possible." She looked through the binoculars. "There seem to be laborers as well as domestics."

Gil agreed and whistled again for both Shannon and Eric. "We've got some action," he told them.

Eric squatted down beside them and watched. "No idea why, hunh?" Tia shook her head. "We'd better find out. Gil, why don't you and Shannon go into the village and see what's going on. Tia and I will stay here and watch."

Gil stood and stretched his legs. "Do we need anything? We ought to buy a few things so we don't look conspicuous."

"I don't know." He turned to Tia. "Do they get many tourists?"

"Some. There are a few shops that cater to the trade. You might pick up something there."

"Great. Shall we go?"

After they left, Eric told Tia he wanted to get a better view of the courtyard. "Where would be the best spot?"

"I think it would be over this way."

* * * *

Gil and Shannon strolled through the village pretending to browse for souvenirs. They stopped in the bazaar in front of a stall presided over by an old woman. "Here on vacation, dears? You've come during the right season; the weather's been lovely. Can I interest you in anything?"

Shannon saw a colorful poster of the palace. "Isn't that the palace up in the mountains?"

"Beautiful, isn't it? That was taken a few months before the Alcalde came. Things have changed so much since he arrived."

"We noticed a few stores were closed. Why is that? Isn't the trade doing well?"

"Oh, yes. It's just that the Alcalde is planning a party for the arrival of El Capitain. He is paying them to work for him: carpenters, masons, and domestics. It means more business for the rest of us."

"When will El Capitain arrive?" asked Shannon.

"We were told tomorrow evening."

"Hope it doesn't detract from your business," Gil said as Shannon bought a copy of the poster.

* * * *

Alan slowly walked the room. "Why all the fuss? Can you tell?"

Zia peered out the window. "I can't really tell. It looks like they're getting ready for a fete or carnival."

"But why? Cameron isn't the type to throw a party for the fun of it." He stopped by the door. "Get down, someone's coming."

Zia stepped off the chair resting on the bed then down to the floor. She then placed the chair in its original position. "Hurry and lie down. Once he finds out you're better, you're dead."

"I know." He lay down on the cot and drew the blanket up to his chest.

The lock turned and Cameron entered. "How is the patient?"

"As well as can be expected," remarked Alan.

"As long as you can join us for our entertainment tonight. The two of you are probably wondering what all the excitement is about. We're expecting company: El Capitain. You know him as Devlin," he said to Alan.

"Oh, yeah, your new boss."

"The arrangement is a necessity until I re-establish myself. There are a few problems I need to get rid of first. After tonight, everything will be solved."

"Are we to be invited to the festivities?"

"But of course, Major. I wouldn't go through the trouble of bringing you here to leave you cooped-up." Cameron smiled. "The three of you will provide the entertainment tonight."

"The three of us?" asked Zia.

Cameron stepped aside and Davies was shoved into the room. "Enjoy your last hours." He left.

"Does that mean what I think it does?" asked Davies.

"Yep. Our deaths will be the way by which he proves to Devlin and his men that he can run this place. I never thought he would be so medieval."

"We still have hope, however," said Zia, trying to cheer herself up. "Tia and your friends are out there somewhere."

"The Alcalde knows about them. He doesn't know where they are, exactly, but he knows that they're together planning a rescue," Davies informed them.

"Just in case, we should come up with our own plan." Alan began to pace the floor while Zia and Davies watched.

* * * *

"El Capitain, eh?" murmured Eric. "Must be someone Cameron wants to impress."

"Do you think it's Devlin?" questioned Gil.

"Must be. I don't think there's anyone else he'd go out of his way for."

"I don't think it's Devlin he's trying to impress," said Shannon. "If that were necessary, he never would have gotten off the transport. No, I think it's his men he has to prove himself to; to make sure that they don't try and move in on him."

"You've got a point," remarked Gil. "And what would be the best way to show his strength?"

"To punish dissenters," said Tia slowly. "An execution."

"We need to get ourselves proper clothes and the right passes. Tonight we go inside and get them out."

* * * *

Cameron was standing on the tarmac waiting for Devlin's ship to touch down. He had made sure that the road was lined by happy citizens to greet El Capitain. He also had Max round up the usual suspects so there would be no uproar that could disgrace him. When the ship landed, Cameron greeted Devlin with a firm handshake. "So good to see you again. Was the trip successful?"

"Yeah. Knocked off a couple of passenger liners and took in quite a haul." He looked around the port, seemingly impressed. "How about you? Any troubles?"

"Some. But tonight should put an end to them."

"You have something planned?" asked Devlin, a smile creeping across his face.

"The dissident, Davies, and the elder Navarre sister will be executed for treason tonight after I take care of more personal business: the death of Major Alan Kelly."

* * * *

The object of Cameron's hatred was lying on the cot in his cell. His breathing was short and shallow. "You're rushing your healing," Tia scolded. "Keep this up and it could--"

"Be the death of me?" His breathing became more normal. "Hell, I'd rather die than give Cameron the satisfaction of killing me."

"Quit talking like that," said Davies. "We need to be positive. I don't plan to die easy."

Alan smiled. "Cause trouble to the end. I like that. Maybe we can ruin Cameron that way."

The door opened and two guards entered and took Davies away. "Remember what I said!"

"What are they going to do?" asked Zia.

"One last attempt to get him to sign that paper. It's too early to kill him. Besides, I think he wants to get rid of me first."

"Why is he doing this?"

"To break us down, to make us scared. You've got to be strong in order to ruin his plan. As you said, we still have hope."

Two different guards came to take Zia. Before she left, she gave Alan a quick kiss on the cheek. "I'm sorry."

"Just remember our conversation and you'll do fine."

She squared her shoulders and walked out the door. Now, if he could only follow his own advice.

* * * *

The rescue party entered the palace courtyard in borrowed clothes and with forged passes. The guards at the gate barely gave them a second glance. "The overseer will give you your duties."

Tia had them follow her through one of the side doors. "This leads to the servants' quarters. From here we can have access to almost every area." Gil was about to question how she knew this, but thought it too trivial.

She peered around the corner. "I think we've found them. There's a guard standing by one of the doors."

Eric took a peek. "How about distracting him so I can knock him out?"

She walked out and called to the guard. "Excuse me," she said with the local accent, "but I think I've taken a wrong turn. Could you show me the right way?" The guard seemed hesitant. "Please." She batted her eyelids in a most beguiling manner. How could he refuse?

When he approached Tia, he put himself right where Eric wanted him. He brought down the butt of his blaster on the back of the guard's head. "Gil, give me a hand with this guy. Tia, you and Shannon go check on the others."

Shannon tried the door but it was locked. "The key," she hissed, "throw me the key!" Gil tossed it to her. She opened the door and approached the cot. The figure was facing the wall. "Alan?"

He turned around to face her. She wanted to reach out and touched his bruised and swollen face. "Shannon? It's about time." He sat up. "We have to move fast."

The others came in. "Where is my sister?" asked Tia.

"I don't know. They took her and Davies away."

"Davies is here?" asked Gil.

"Yep, and our deaths are to be the entertainment for an esteemed guest."

"El Capitain."

"Devlin."

"Right. We figured that." He turned to Tia. "Where would they be?"

"Probably the main dining hall. There's more than enough room."

Alan headed for the door. "Let's go."

"Can you manage?" asked Eric.

"I'll let you know if I can't."

"Good. Just don't play Hero."

"Me?" he said with innocent sarcasm.

Gil whispered to Shannon, "Keep an eye on him."

* * * *

Devlin finished his drink with one swallow. "You've handled things well here, Cameron. I knew you were the right man for the job. This should make the perfect base of operations."

"So glad you approve." Cameron's sarcasm went unnoticed. (The idea had originally been his.)

"But why have you separated the prisoners? Was that wise?"

Cameron hid his frustration. "Let me explain. It is based on the strategy of divide and conquer. When they are alone, they are worried about what will happen to them and what may have befallen their companions. It creates the dear and uncertainty that is lacking when they are together." That should be simple enough, he thought.

"Who will be the first to die?"

"Kelly, I think. To the people of Sirus, he is a virtual stranger while the others are well-known." Cameron looked straight ahead. "I just haven't decided how to do it."

Devlin smiled. "What about the firing squad?"

"No, too impersonal."

"Hanging?"

"Men have been known to survive."

"The block?"

"Perfect. One-on-one with the executioner and just the right amount of blood." He waved for a spot to be cleared in the Great Hall and the block was placed in the center. He also ordered that Zia and Davies be brought out to witness it. He grinned. This was going to be fun.

* * * *

Eric peered out onto the Great Hall from the Minstrels' Gallery. "Cameron and Devlin are there. He's got a space cleared for the block. He wants to cut your head off."

"I think the atmosphere of this place is getting to him," Alan muttered.

"Any sign of Zia or Davies?" asked Tia.

"No, I don't see them. Wait, they're being brought in now. I don't think they knew the other was alive."

"Well, what do we do?" asked Gil.

Eric sat down across from them. Alan looked pale. "How're you doing?"

"Okay."

"Liar. Shannon, you get him outta here and warm up one of the hovercrafts. We'll need a quick getaway."

Shannon helped Alan to his feet. "C'mon, let's go." She took a firm grip on his arm both to steady him and to keep him moving. "Take care," she said to the others.

"We will. You just get him out of here," said Gil.

Tia peered over the rail. She had never admired her sister more than she did at that moment. She was defiant in the lair of the enemy. She had always been idealistic, and this was to be the Great Sacrifice. Tia quickly wiped away a tear. "I think he's sending guards for Alan."

"We've got to get to them," said Gil. "Cameron will take out his anger on them."

"Okay," said Eric, "I think I've got it. We make our way down and mingle. You two try and get as close as you can to Davies and Zia. I'll go for Cameron and Devlin. When the guards come back with the news that Alan's gone, there'll be a major uproar. When that happens, you free Zia and Davies and I'll confront Cameron and block your escape. We then meet up with Shannon and Alan."

"I think you've seen too many swashbuckling vids," remarked Gil.

"It just might work, though," said Tia.

"I didn't say that it wouldn't," defended Gil. "It always worked for Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn. Cameron wouldn't expect it."

"Okay, let's do it."

They slowly made their way down to the Great Hall and mingled among the guests and other villagers. Gil and Tia positioned themselves near Davies and Zia. Gil felt for his knife to make sure it was in easy reach to cut their bonds. Eric made for the foot of the dais so as to have a clear shot at Cameron if necessary. He recognized a few faces among Devlin's pirates; some had fought alongside him when he was a hired mercenary.

The guards came running into the Hall. "He's gone! We found the door wide open and the room empty!"

"Damn!" Cameron looked at the pirates. "Don't just sit there! Get him! I want Kelly alive so I can have the pleasure of killing him myself!"

During the following confusion, Tia and Gil ran towards the prisoners and cut the ropes about their wrists. "Head for the door," hissed Gil. "We'll follow."

"Your other prisoners are escaping, Cameron," said Devlin, enjoying his host's discomfort.

"What?" Cameron saw the four heading for the doorway. "Stop them!"

"If they do, you're dead," said Eric softly, his blaster pointing at him. "Don't think I can't do it. Devlin and half the men here can testify that I'm a good shot."

Devlin stared closely at him. "You? What are you doing here?"

"I found a better paying job. Now, I'm going to join my associates and I want a clear passage to the door." Devlin nodded, knowing that Eric's was not an empty boast. The pirates moved to either side of the Hall, leaving the way clear. Eric had earned himself a reputation as one of the best pilots and fighters among the pirates and mercenaries, and no one was foolish enough to cross him.

Upon reaching the door, he said, "You've been most kind, and please take it personally when I say that I wouldn't care to partake of your hospitality again."

He ran through the corridors and jumped into the waiting hovercraft in the courtyard. "Go for it!"

Shannon piloted the hovercraft towards Charon. Right now, she only had one thing on her mind: to head for their ship as fast as possible. "Head for the spaceport," Alan told her.

"Already ahead of you."

"But what about the Alcalde--Cameron?" asked Zia. "We must fight him."

"We will," said Alan, "but our odds will be much better in the air."

Shannon stopped next to the carrier and they all climbed out. Gil went in first to warm up the engines followed by the two sisters. "How long do you think it'll take for Devlin and Cameron to get together and come after us?" asked Davies.

"They're probably on their way now," answered Eric as he followed Alan into the ship. Shannon closed the hatch behind her as Davies joined the others in the control room.

When he was sure that everyone was seated, Eric lifted off. When they evened out, he heaved a sigh of relief. "All we have to do now is keep an eye out for Cameron and Devlin. Since we're expecting them, it shouldn't be too bad."

"Has anyone seen Alan?" asked Zia. "I was going to give him another treatment, but I can't find him."

Eric looked at the others. "You don't think..?"

Gil checked the monitors. "Yep, he's there."

"When I get my hands on Alan Kelly..." He stormed out of the room.

Shannon looked at Gil. "Do you know how to fly this thing?"

"Kind of. What about you?"

"Even less than that." She switched on the radio so they could hear the conversation between Alan and Eric.

"I'd like to know what the hell you think you're doing," Eric was saying.

"I'm getting ready to face Cameron and Devlin," Alan replied evenly.

"With one arm? Be serious."

"We've had this conversation before and you know I can do it."

"Okay, then what about your eye? You can't tell me you've done that before."

Alan smiled. "I was depending on you. I knew you'd want to come along."

Eric laughed. "You're impossible, you know that?" He climbed into the Sky Hawk behind Alan and put on his helmet. "Ready."

Alan spoke on the link to the others. "I know you've been listening so you know what's going on. What you need to do is keep the ship as steady as possible as we go out. I also want you to keep a good distance between yourselves and the fighting. Clear?"

"Yes, sir!" said Shannon, saluting the radio.

* * * *

Cameron and Devlin arrived at the spaceport about twenty minutes after the others had taken off. They spotted the hovercraft and saw the ship was gone. "We've lost them!" shouted Devlin.

"Wait a minute." Cameron grabbed someone's binoculars and looked to the sky. "Thought so. He's up there waiting for us in a fighter."

"Let me see." Devlin took the binoculars. "It's the Sky Hawk all right. I thought it had been destroyed in a fight against Raven." He looked at one of his men, who shrugged. "Now I can get rid of him myself." He walked across the tarmac to one of his escort fighters. Cameron followed. "What are you doing?"

"I'm going up there with you. I have good reason to want him dead, too."

"I thought you didn't like fighting?"

"I don't, but this is revenge."

The two climbed inside and Cameron positioned himself in the rear with the computer. "The Hawk was stolen about four years ago, wasn't it?"

"Yeah. Rader took it when he deserted. I think he kept it hidden on some planet when he wasn't using it." He started the engines. "The men say he used it to escape with Kelly. He was let off easy because of it."

"Well, we won't let him off. Once we get him out of the way, Kelly, in his condition, should be easy to handle."

"Yeah, but Rader is a pretty formidable pilot, especially in the Hawk," he said as the fighter lifted into the air. "We've got to be careful."

* * * *

"Here they come," said Eric. "What do you want to do?"

"Play with them for a little while and let them make the first move."

"You sure?"

"We'll soon find out, here they are." Devlin's fighter was closing in on them, lasers firing.

"Just let me know when you want me to take the controls."

"You mean you haven't been flying?"

"Alan, this is no time for jokes. They want us dead!" Eric was jolted to the right as Alan swerved quickly. "Thank you."

"Hope your trigger finger is limbered-up. I give you permission to fire at will."

"Yes, Major."

"They're making another pass."

"I see 'em." Eric gave them some welcoming shots, purposely missing. "That should shake them up a bit."

"Yeah, I think it has."

* * * *

Cameron was unnerved by the shots. "I thought you said he was a good shot."

"He is. He missed on purpose. It's an old tactic meaning that he could have killed us if he wanted to." His voice became vicious. "I want to." He returned fire but the Hawk easily outmaneuvered them.

"Calm down, you're gonna lose him if you shoot like that."

"When did you get so much experience?"

"I may not be a pilot, but I know that emotions get in the way and affect your performance. Let him come to you."

* * * *

"What's going on?" asked Eric. "They're not moving."

"I know. I think they're waiting. I didn't know Devlin had the patience."

"He doesn't. That's got to be Cameron's doing. Do you want to try and out-wait them?"

"Yeah. That should be no contest." He gritted his teeth as the pain in his chest became heavier.

"How are you holding up?"

"Fine," he lied quickly.

Eric knew he was far from fine, but that he wouldn't give up. He only hoped that this would soon be over.

* * * *

"'Wait for him' you said. 'Let him come to you.' Looks like he's playing the waiting game, too. I think you should have stayed with the more subtle crimes, Cameron. Outright violence doesn't suit you."

Cameron tried to hide his irritation. "Well, if you're going to shoot, try at least to disable their guns."

"Of course. Everyone knows that," said Devlin. He targeted their laser canons and fired.

* * * *

"Christ!" Eric took the controls and moved the Hawk out of the line-of-fire. Only the edge of the right wing was singed. "Alan, didn't you see that?"

"Hunh?' Alan tried to clear his head. "What happened?"

"Devlin almost had us. How about if I fly and you fire?"

"Sure."

"Hang on. Shouldn't be too longer. Just remember, Cameron's in that other fighter."

"Okay, let's go." He tried to focus on his target.

Eric piloted the Hawk past Devlin. "Okay, I'll give them one more fly-by then it's your show. Let me know if you want me to do it."

"I'll do it." The pain was getting worse, but he was determined. He stared at his viewfinder until everything was on target. His vision was becoming blurred and he was beginning to feel faint. "Just a little longer," he murmured. Soon it was within his sights. He pushed the trigger. The last thing he saw before passing out was Devlin's ship blowing up.

* * * *

Alan woke slowly, not wanting to give up the bliss of unconsciousness. He opened both eyes--the left was still a little swollen, but it opened. He saw Gil leaning back in an easy chair. "What's the verdict, Doc?"

"So, you finally decided to join us," he said as he walked over to the bed. "About time, too."

"Finally? How long was I asleep?"

"Two days."

"Two days? Why didn't anyone wake me?"

"Zia and I decided that sleep was the best thing for you. How do you feel?"

"Okay, I guess." He sat up in bed. "Barely any pain at all." Alan looked about the room, which was very luxurious. "Where are we?"

"The Royal Suite at the Casino Hotel. It was the closest place and Zia felt that you deserved it."

"Help me up. I think I've been in bed long enough. While I'm getting dressed, you can tell me what happened."

"Sure." He gave Alan a hand as he stood. "After you blew up Devlin and Cameron, you passed out. Eric put in a call to us and we opened the bay doors for him. I helped him carry you to a bunk. Zia took over while Eric landed us in the port. The pirates listened to him when he told them to leave Sirus for good."

"That was it?" Alan buttoned up his shirt. "I guess they all knew his rep."

"It was pretty amazing. I guess with both Cameron and Devlin gone, there was no leadership." He went over to the wardrobe. "I've got something for you." He presented Alan with a piece of cloth.

"A sling. How thoughtful." He was far from thrilled.

They met Eric, Shannon, and Davies in the casino. "This place doesn't seem to have noticed the change of ownership," Alan remarked, sitting.

"Just as long as they keep winning and the drinks don't stop," said Eric with a smile.

"The voice of experience?" queried Shannon. Eric only smiled.

"It's reverted back to the original owners," Davies told them.

"Oh, and who might that be?" asked Alan, sipping his beer.

"It was called the Casino Regal, if that's any help."

"Wasn't that pretty foolish on Devlin's part, to try and take this planet over when there was still living royalty?" asked Shannon.

"They didn't know. The people of Charon kept them a secret."

"Look, there are Tia and Zia," said Gil.

"Where?" asked Eric. "I don't see them."

"Up near the office."

"Ooohh, they look wonderful," said Shannon.

Alan noticed the smile on Davies' face. "You mean..?"

Before he had a chance to answer, the casino intercom began to play the Sirian Anthem. "Ladies and Gentlemen, their Royal Highnesses, Princess Zia and Princess Tia." The sisters walked down the stairs and the TOCs could not believe their eyes. People bowed their heads as they passed, making their way to the Temporal Observers.

"I'm glad to see you're feeling better, Major," said Zia.

"Thank you, Your Highness. I was told that you had a role in that."

"A small one. Please, you are our friends. Call us by our given names."

"We've come to thank you," said Tia. "Without you, we would still be under the rule of El Capitain and the Alcalde."

"But why didn't you tell us?" asked Gil. "Didn't we have the right to know?"

"Would you have acted the same towards us? Would you have let us go along and fight?"

"No, I guess not."

"In gratitude," said Zia, "we'd like you to stay for as long as you wish, using the Royal Suite. All of Sirus owes you its freedom."

"We'd love to," said Shannon.

"But we can't," Alan finished. The others stared at him. "I know that I, even more than the others, owe you thanks. However, there is someone back on Earth who will most definitely lose his job if we don't head back soon. God knows, he's covered for us enough times."

Zia was sorry to see them go and said so. "But you have lives away from here and it's wrong for us to want to keep you here."

"What the hell. Jason can wait!"

10. Devouring Time.

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