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TOC Files 15: Time's Fatal Wings

Title: Time's Fatal Wings
Series: The TOC Files
Word Count 6437
Summary There's a contract out on Alan and a number of bounty hunters after him. Added to this, he's contracted a fatal disease.




XV Time's Fatal Wings
Time's fatal wings do ever forward fly,
So every day we live a day we die.
Thomas Campion, "Sic Transit"


Alan flipped through the magazine as he waited outside the doctor's office. He always dreaded these annual checkups. "Col. Kelly, the doctor will see you now," said the nurse. Alan followed her into the examination room, took off his shirt, and held out his arm for her to take his blood pressure. When this was done, she motioned for him to stand on the scale. She wrote down the information in his file and left without saying a word.

This was even worse than the waiting room. In here there were no magazines to read and no bland paintings to stare at. There were only health posters. Alan twiddled his thumbs. The doctor entered the room about ten minutes later. "Sorry I'm late, Colonel. Last examination took longer than planned." He looked at the file. "Lost quite a bit of weight, have you? Blood pressure's a little shaky, too."

"Yeah, I have been tired lately, too. Sleeping maybe three hours a night."

"Recurring nightmares again?"

Alan laughed. "You heard about those? No. The thing is that I'm dead tired but when it comes to sleep, I can't."

"Let's get on with the physical and, if you want, I'll prescribe a sedative."

"Whatever you think best."

After the examination, Alan left the offices and headed for the main entrance. On the way, he met his twin brother Ryan. "What are you doing here?"

"Just had my annual physical. You?"

"Last session with my shrink."

"That's wonderful. Let's go celebrate." They went outside and walked down the road. "So, you've come to terms with everything?"

Ryan gave him a crooked smile. "It took awhile, but I now realize that you didn't walk out on me in my time of need. It was my decision to run away and 'turn to a life of crime', as they say."

"Cameron James is dead and buried and now you can start being Ryan. Kind of appropriate since it's nearing our birthday."

"That's going to be strange; celebrating our birthday." He smiled. "Now all I have to do is figure out what to get you."

"Nothing can top giving me Violet's diary. How did you get it, anyway?"

"Well, I was out with Mom--that still sounds weird--and she wanted to go to an auction of Victoriana. I tagged along out of curiosity. One of the items listed in the catalog was a woman's diary. When I looked at it and saw it was Violet's, I knew you had to have it." Ryan laughed. "She didn't say as many flattering things about me as she did you, but then I was the villain of the piece. I wonder what she'd say if she saw me now."

"She was quite surprised when I told her. She was glad that we resolved our differences." Alan didn't want to talk about Violet Munro, as she was still a touchy subject. He started across the street and was so deep in his memories that he didn't notice the hovercraft until it was almost upon him. Ryan rushed out and pushed him out of the way.

He helped his brother stand. "Are you okay?"

"Just a little shaken. Someone should revoke his license. Driving like that could kill someone."

"I think it was meant to."

"You would know, wouldn't you?"

"C'mon, we'll pick up your prescription then it's right back to the Base. I don't want to lose you now."

They arrived on the Base and headed for Alan's quarters. Waiting for him were Shannon Flynn and Eric Rader, two fellow members of the elite Temporal Observers. "Where have you been?" asked Shannon. "We were looking all over for you."

"I thought you had a doctor's appointment," put in Eric.

"I did, with Barrows in the city. I've never known anyone to show so much concern about my whereabouts before." He looked at Ryan. "Well, with maybe one exception."

"We've been told to find you and bring you to the CO's office," said Eric. He looked at Ryan. "You're to come, too."

They walked down the hall and Alan fell in step with Shannon. "Could you tell me what's going on?"

Shannon looked at him. "I don't know, exactly, only that it's urgent."

They entered the commander's office and he greeted Alan. "Glad to see you're in one piece, Colonel."

"So am I, General, though I would like to know why you didn't think I would be."

"We intercepted a report from the Ananias Quadrant. It was news that a contract has been put out for you for the death of Derek Stoker."

Alan looked at Ryan whose face mirrored his own shock. "That's impossible! I only saw him that one time on Sylvan when he left me tied up with a bomb for company. For all I know, he's still alive."

"Nevertheless, they are serious about this and I'm serious about protecting you. That's why I've posted a guard."

"But, sir--"

"They mean it even if you don't believe it. There will be two soldiers guarding you at all times. And there will be no trying to evade them. Understood?"

"Yes, sir." The soldiers saluted and left.

"I don't believe it," remarked Eric. "Of all the enemies you've made, this is the first contract that's been put out on you."

"The thing is, I didn't kill him." Alan stifled a yawn. "I'm going to try and get some sleep. Hopefully I can." He went back to his quarters followed by the two guards who then posted themselves on either side of his door.

Alan could spare no time for them. When he was this tired, he had to give in and attempt to sleep since it happened so rarely. He took off his shoes, got out two sleeping pills and washed them down with a glass of water. He then stretched out on the bed and waited for elusive sleep.

* * * *

The figure crept into the room and smiled when it saw Alan asleep on the bed. This was going to be easier than anticipated. Even the guards had posed no threat once they inhaled the knockout gas. The figure took in the bottle of sleeping pills on the night table and knew the reason the quarry wasn't putting up a fight. Trying to carry him out through the corridors would be obvious, but that wasn't necessary. The machine on his wrist was their way out. Once the coordinates were programmed into the machine, they were on the ship.

When Alan woke, he found himself in a room that was cell-like in its size and furnishings. He tried the door, but it was locked. He was a prisoner! He smiled at the irony of the whole thing: he was taken despite the general's attempts to guard him.

He heard footsteps in the corridor and prepared himself for the encounter. It was probably some muscle-bound bounty hunter or mercenary that could possibly be tricked. Despite having slept for God only knew how long, he wouldn't let on how weak he felt. He heard the lock turn and backed away as the door opened.
The figure that entered was far from Alan's expectations. It was tall and shrouded in a hooded cloak that disguised its features. Without words, it motioned for him to place his hands behind his back. Alan complied, not knowing what to expect from his mysterious captor. He was led out through the corridors to the main hatchway. The figure pushed a button and the hatch opened. The figure then prodded Alan forward to where a group of men were waiting. Men, he guessed, who were once followers of Derek Stoker, his brother.

The figure kept prodding until they were facing the man Alan assumed was in charge. "So, this is Col. Alan Kelly. Don't see what all the fuss is about." The figure held out a gloved hand, waiting for the money. "All right, all right, I'll give you your money." He handed over a case. The bounty hunter opened and counted it before handing over Alan. It then headed back to the ship and prepared for lift-off.

As Alan watched it disappear, his weakness overpowered his will and he collapsed unconscious to the ground.

* * * *

He should have been here by now," said Shannon.

"Those sleeping pills from the doctor probably knocked him out," explained Ryan.

"That was hours ago." Eric leaned forward in his chair. "Look, there's Evan. Maybe he's seen Alan."

Alan and Ryan's older brother Evan, a member of the diplomatic corps, joined them. He took in their faces. "What's wrong?"

"We're worried about Alan," said Shannon. "We haven't seen him since he left for a nap."

"Yeah, I heard about the contract. I passed his quarters about fifteen minutes ago and saw the guards. Makes it look like he's under house arrest."

"Just the same, I don't like it." Ryan got up and left the mess. Eric still didn't trust him and followed. Shannon and Evan tagged along.

Ryan turned the corner and saw the unconscious guards, "Oh, God, no!" He rushed into Alan's rooms and found them empty. He went into the bedroom and felt the pillow. There were still traces of warmth. He had still been here a short time ago. There was something on the pillow. He picked up a small business card with a hologram on it: a jackal's head.

"Where is he? What's happened?" Eric rushed into the room and saw Ryan by the bed.

"He's gone. They've got him. Look." He handed Eric the card knowing that he would understand it from his mercenary days. "Anubis."

"Who's Anubis aside from an Egyptian god?" asked Shannon as she and Evan arrived.

"One of the best bounty hunters in the galaxy. Our paths crossed once or twice."

"You know him?"

"Nobody does," said Ryan. "Not really, anyway. He wears a long cloak that completely disguises him and never speaks." He looked at Eric. "I've seen him too."
"Now that we know who's taken him," said Evan, "we only have to figure out where."

Shannon thought she heard someone else enter and looked towards the door. It was Dr. Gilbert Connor, a friend of Alan's since childhood. He was surprised to see them all. He took in their sad faces. "You've heard, too." They nodded, amazed that he knew. "Well, where is he? We've got to start the treatments right away."

"What are you talking about?" asked Eric.

"The results of his physical. He's in the advanced stages of Torenz and could die if it's not treated immediately." He noticed the even stranger looks they exchanged. "What's the matter? Where is he?"

"He was taken away to stand trial for the murder of Derek Stoker," said Evan.

"The arms dealer?" They nodded. "Christ, how are we going to find him? I don't know how long he has."

"I think we might have a lead," put in Eric. "I know where we might be able to find the bounty hunter that took him."

"When do we leave?" asked Shannon.

"You are staying here. The people where I'm going are tough and deadly. You'd stick out."

"I can be tough when I have to. I'm going with you."

Eric looked at Gil and Evan for help in his argument, but they only smiled. "Okay, okay. We only want information, so let me do the talking."

"I'll prepare your inoculations in case he's in the contagious stage when you find him."

"Better make three of them," said Ryan quietly. I'm going, too."

"Oh, come on."

"I've had dealings with Anubis before and, if we do track Alan down, I have proof of his innocence."

"What could that be in order to convince a bunch of cutthroats?" asked Eric.

Ryan looked at them and announced, "I was Derek Stoker."

* * * *

"Well, how is he?" asked a man of some importance.

The doctor looked up from the units that were monitoring Alan's vital signs. "Not very well, I'm afraid, H.P. He's suffering from Torenz and I don't have the proper medicines. They can only be ordered from Xien where they're produced."

"How long does he have? Will he make it through the trial?"

"I'm not sure. I've lowered his vital signs and induced a coma--a type of suspended animation. I can bring him out when we have the drugs."

"I'll send someone to get them immediately. We don't want him to die before we can execute him, do we?" said H.P. with an evil smile.

"No, sir," agreed the doctor. He also knew that if Kelly did die, he would as well.

* * * *

After they got over the shock, it was agreed that Ryan would go with them. They "materialized" outside a bar that Shannon immediately classified as a dive. As they walked in, she saw more non-humanoid species than she ever had before. They definitely were a rough-looking bunch. She was glad Eric had insisted they dress the part.

Eric made her wait with Ryan as he entered the bar. Shannon expected him to go to a seedy-looking character, but, instead, he walked up to a young woman with golden blonde hair. "Is she Anubis' girlfriend?"

Ryan smiled. "No."

"You mean she's..."

"You're only the third person to learn the truth about Anubis. You have to swear to keep it secret."

"Cross my heart and hope to die."

"You just might." Ryan looked over at the table where Eric was talking with Anubis. Eric waved a hand for them to come over. "C'mon." He swaggered over as if he owned the place. Shannon had to admit he exuded confidence.

Shannon followed and watched the reaction of Anubis when she saw Ryan. "Hello, Liz," he said, pulling up a chair.

Liz, alias Anubis, looked at Ryan and shook her head in amazement. "When I saw Mr. Sky Hawk strolling over, I was pleasantly surprised. Now, seeing you here, I think I've experienced a miracle."

"You heard about my being dead."

"Yeah, but that's not the miracle. I mean, the two of you sitting at the same table." She looked at Shannon. "Who's she?"

"Shannon Flynn," she answered. "Member of the TOC."

"Oh, yes. I had forgotten about that." Liz looked at Eric. "That's what you went back to."

"No, I went back to help a friend, which is also why we're here."

"Now that you've seen he isn't dead and Alan couldn't have killed him, what are you going to do?" asked Shannon.

"Oh, I'll help you," Liz answered. "I don't want it known that I sent an innocent man to his death." She took a sip of her drink. "I can see why Eric and Shannon want to find Col. Kelly, but why would Derek Stoker? Everyone knows you wanted to see him dead."

"Things have changed, Liz. For years I wanted to see him dead, that's true, but just a few months ago, I learned something that changed my opinion of him."

"Oh? What might that be?"

"My real name is Ryan Kelly and Alan is my twin."

* * * *

Evan found Gil in the Base hospital preparing a special room for Alan. "Do you think they'll find him?"

"There's a good chance. I just hope we get the medicine." He made some adjustments to a piece of apparatus.

"Why can't you just use the machine to pop up there and pick it up? It may not arrive on time otherwise."

"The people of Xien are bureaucrats. They have to be, the drug is the only thing they have to make money. You have to follow the proper procedure or they'll give you so much paperwork that it won't be much of a shortcut. I told them who it was for and they said they'd try to speed it up."

"How long could it take?"

"Lord only knows."

* * * *

H.P. looked at the four men facing him. They were his best commandos. "You know that we are preparing for the trial of Col. Alan Kelly of the Rangers for the murder of Derek Stoker. However, Dr. Marsden says that Kelly has contracted a disease to which there is only one cure. Without it, he will die. You are to raid the Xien transport and take the shipment. Once he is cured, we will conduct the trial, after which he will be executed. Understood?"

"Yes, sir!" They saluted and left.

H.P. made his way to the sick bay and checked with Marsden on Alan's health. "He's stabilized," said the doctor. "Everything seems to be fine. I've never done this for more than a few days, so I'm worried about bringing him out of it."

"It shouldn't be too long. I've sent men to get the drug. Monitor him carefully and notify me of any changes." H.P. left the sickbay and Marsden looked into the cylinder that contained Alan's body and sighed.

* * * *

Shannon watched Liz as she showed them about the ship. It was good-sized, with rooms for a possible crew, a galley, and large control room. She acted like a woman giving a tour of her home. Shannon found it hard to believe that she was a bounty hunter.

They were all in the galley discussing their plan of action over coffee. Eric sat at the table across from Liz. "When you 'delivered' him, where did you take him?"

"I took him to Costa where I was met by a contingent of his men. They paid me and I left. I can't tell you much more than that."

"He wouldn't keep him there," said Ryan. "It would be too obvious. He'd know that if you talked to anyone, that's what you'd tell them."

"Is there any back-up base or bolt-hole he'd go to?"

"Nothing big enough for what he has in mind."

"Is there anything you can think of?" asked Shannon.

"Wait, there is a place. There was a freighter we commandeered and converted for our own purposes. Sometimes we'd put it in a stationary orbit above whatever planet we were, um, dealing with."

"Is that a good chance that's where he'll be?" asked Shannon.

"A very good chance. I just don't know where he would've taken it."

"I've got some charts we can call up on the bridge," said Liz.

They all went to the bridge and Liz brought up the holographic star charts. Ryan punched in the coordinates for the areas he thought H.P. would hold the trial. None seemed to meet all the requirements.

"Is there any possibility they know of the disease?" asked Shannon.

"I'm sure Marsden's looked at him, and he's got brains enough to diagnose such an infamous disease."

"If that's the case, won't they try to get the proper drugs? Gil said that there's only one place the drugs come from. What if we went there, wait for them to show up, the follow them?"

Her simple solution surprised the others. "Brilliant," said Ryan.

"It takes a simple answer to bring down something so devious," added Liz.

"I'm glad you're on our side," said Eric.

Liz set the course for Xien where they would wait for H.P.'s henchmen.

* * * *

Sarn saw the ship on the monitor as it approached. He finished dabbing on the fake blood and looked around the control room at the mess he and the other men had created. It should pass a cursory examination. He hit the distress signal before draping himself over a panel.

The Xien ship stopped alongside and sent men over to check the condition of the crew. Seeing the "destruction", they ferried the wounded crewmembers to their own ship. They were taken to the sickbay where they were looked after.

Sarn then shot the doctor then he and his men made their way to the bridge and they took over the ship. The communications officer attempted to switch on the radio and one of the men shot him. The captain, an older woman, turned on Sarn. "Who are you? What do you want?"

"We've just come to fill a prescription," he said with a smile. "Where is the drug?"

"Why should I tell you?"

Sarn aimed his laser at her head. "If you value your life, you will."

The captain gave in and told him it was in the hold. The crew was tied up then Sarn and his men loaded their own ship with the drug. Even though he knew Kelly wouldn't need all of it, the remainder would bring a great price on the black market.

With everything loaded, they pulled away from the transport ship. When it was a sufficient distance away, they turned at fired at it, watching it explode.

* * * *

Evan went rushing into Gil's lab. "I just heard that the transport ship from Xien was blown up!"

"What?"

"Word just came through that it was blown up and the shipment totally destroyed. There won't be another for close to a month and that'll be too late."

"I still think he's going to get it."

"What are you talking about?"

"Just think about it. The drugs were taken in a violent manner so they have to be violent people. I think that the people who have Alan took the drug to give to him."

"Why would they waste the effort?"

"They wouldn't want to lose face by having him die before the trial."

* * * *

They saw the explosion and knew they were too late to save anyone. Shannon made the Sign of the Cross and said a small prayer for their souls. Liz was surprised to see such an ancient ritual but said nothing.

"You certainly can pick your recruits," declared Eric, his voice full of anger.

"I know who did this," Ryan said slowly. "He always was hard to control. You should know him," he added with a look towards Eric.

"Who?"

"Sarn. He used to be with Raven."

"Christ! The man's a maniac!"

"H.P.'s given him free reign. It's Hell in the making."

Liz looked up from the monitor. "There's a ship heading west out of the area. It has to be them."

"Well, follow them!" Ryan, used to giving orders without being questioned, amended his command with a "please".

Liz smiled and started after Sarn's ship. Eric, the only other pilot, sat at one of the other panels and tried to determine their path by speed and trajectory. Shannon went over to Ryan. "Who's Sarn?"

"A trained killer. As I said, he was with Raven and his mercenaries."

"The same people Eric was with."

"Right. Anyway, after Raven was killed, Sarn floated around, joining other bands of lowlifes-- pirates, smugglers, mercenaries. I knew of him from my earlier dealings, and, when he wanted to join up, I let him. He was somewhat hard to control, but I kept him in line. Sometimes I think he resented me for it. Now that I'm supposedly dead, H.P.'s letting him go wild."

"So he's probably excited about having Alan like this."

"Excited is an understatement." He paced about the room. "God, I'm nervous about facing them."

"Will you have to?"

"They can't deny that I'm alive and they'll have to let Alan go."

"We've plotted a course for Varnle. Both ships are equipped with warp drive so we won't lose them," said Eric. "We should be there in no time."

"Great," said Ryan. "Just what I needed to hear."

* * * *

After supervising the docking of his ship, Sarn rushed the drugs up to the sickbay. H.P. and Marsden were preparing Alan, slowly easing him out of the coma. "Any trouble?" asked H.P., taking the drugs.

"No, sir. They didn't know what hit 'em." He looked at Alan. "So that's him. Not much to look at, is he?"

"I don't think you would be either if you were suffering from Torenz," put in Marsden.

"Why, you--"

"How much longer, Marsden?" H.P. interrupted.

"About an hour, sir. No more than two."

"Good. We'll have the trial then."

"He still may be groggy."

"All the better for us." He headed for the door. "Sarn, I'll need your help with security."

"Yes, sir." The two left Marsden alone as he revived Alan so he could go to his execution.

* * * *

Hey, Ryan, come take a look!" called Eric. Ryan went to the monitor and saw a large freighter hovering in space. She had no identifying marks, not even a name. "Is that it?"

"Yes, that's her." There was quite a bit of traffic--smaller ships entering the landing bay. "Looks as if he's just about ready for the trial."

"Let's go, then." Liz piloted the ship towards the landing bay. "Among all those ships, who'll notice one more?"

"And if you're stopped?" asked Shannon.

"I have my cloak. As Anubis, they won't question me."

"What about the rest of us?"

Eric thought for a moment. "No one's seen you before, so if you act disreputable enough, there shouldn't be any trouble." He turned to Ryan. "Is there anybody besides Sarn who used to be with Raven? If so, I'll have to be careful."

"As far as I can remember, there was just Sarn. Do you have any scarves or head covers we can use to hide our faces?" he asked Liz.

"Sure. Back in the closet in my quarters. You'll have to get 'em yourself. I don't want to leave in case they need to see Anubis."

While Ryan was gone, Eric looked at her armory and chose some weapons. "Shane, do you know how to use one of these?"

Shannon walked over and looked at the laser pistol. "I know the basics. I don't think I'd be very good with it."

"Don't let her fool you, she's got great aim," Ryan remarked as he returned with the head covers. "She once shot a gun out of my hand from 200 yards away."

She smiled. "I'd almost forgotten about that."

Eric and Ryan wrapped the scarves about their heads and faces, reminded Shannon of Middle Eastern terrorists. She tried to bite back a laugh. She pushed her hair back with a headband and waited.

"Okay, we're in," said Liz. "I'll help you however I can, as long as it doesn't endanger my identity."

"Thanks for everything, Liz. When things start going crazy, you can leave. We won't be needing a lift back," Eric told her.

"It was great seeing the two of you again." She kissed each of them good-bye. "Good luck." She turned to Shannon. "It was nice meeting you. Take care of them."

"I will. Thank you, Liz."

The four stepped out of the ship and walked slowly out of the landing bay, encouraging many stares. "We are here for the trial," Eric stated in a cold voice. One of the men, daunted by this strange entourage, pointed the way. They marched along the corridors as if they owned the ship. Anubis was given a wide berth. Ryan's eyes darted about the halls, trying to figure where they had Alan stashed until the trial. Eric slowed as the walkway became more crowded. "This must be the place."

"How are we going to get him out of there? We won't be able to get close enough to use the machines," said Shannon.

"We'll go inside and get an idea of the layout," whispered Liz. "You can plan better that way."

Ryan nodded in agreement, not daring to speak. He led the way into the converted mess and forced his way to the front. A bench was set up on a dais from which the "judge" would pass down his biased opinion.

A rough-looking man entered the room and called for quiet. Eric stared at him. "Sarn."

Sarn called for the beginning of the trial and H.P. walked in. A loud cheer went up from the crowd. He allowed himself a rare smile before getting down to business. "Bring in the defendant!" he called.

Alan was escorted in, looking pale and weak. Shannon couldn't believe how he looked. Eric laid a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"Do you know why you are here, Col. Kelly?"

"I don't even know where I am."

"You on here on trial for the murder of our leader, Derek Stoker. What do you have to say?"

"I didn't kill him. The last time I saw him was on Sylvan months ago when he tried to blow me up."

"A likely story. Do you have anyone who will speak on your behalf?"

"They would if they knew where to find me."

Ryan knew this was their only chance. He nudged Eric. "You and Shannon go find the surplus drugs. They should be in the hold."

"What are you planning?"

"My brother's defense. Go on." Eric took Shannon by the hand and led her out of the room. No one had said anything about defending Alan. "I will speak for him,"
Ryan declared, stepping forward, his face still covered.

"And why are you doing this?" questioned H.P..

"Because I have irrefutable proof of his innocence."

"Let us see this proof."

Ryan bent his head and unwrapped the scarf. He slowly lifted his head. "How can he be guilty of murder if the 'victim' is still alive?"

* * * *

Eric and Shannon made their way to the hold. Eric walked as if he knew exactly where he was going. "Do you think Ryan will be okay?" Shannon asked.

"Yeah, I think so." He kept walking. "You know, it's kind of ironic, you worrying about him like that, especially after all he put you through."

"He's changed. You know he has." She stopped when he held up a hand.

"We're there." The door to the hold slid open and Eric walked in. "It should be in vials in a small box." He looked about the hold at all the boxes and hiding places. "This could take forever."

Shannon began to read the labels on the boxes. "If it's supposed to be so hard, how come I've already found it?"

Eric walked over. "Thank God they're a bunch of lazy sods. You take these to Gil so he can be ready when Alan arrives."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm going back to help Ryan. Alan can't be of much help right now."

"But--"

"I know you want to help, and you are by giving Gil the drugs."

Shannon knew he was right and set the coordinates for the lab and disappeared. Eric rushed down the corridors back to the trial.

* * * *

Silence reigned in the trial. It wasn't often that the 'victim' of a murder appeared as a witness. Alan looked at his brother and saw the coldness that had existed in Cameron James. Knowing that he wasn't the subject of that hate this time, he had a good chance to observe.

H.P. quickly recovered. "You aren't really Stoker! You're an impostor sent here by the Alliance to free Kelly!"

"If I were an impostor, I wouldn't know what H.P. stood for, would I, Mr. Harvey Percival?" Ryan said with a smirk.

H.P. blanched as the crowd laughed. Sarn didn't like to see his boss treated this way and slowly advanced on Ryan. "You were always after my position, jealous that I had a loyal following," Ryan continued. "So you pounced on the chance to endear yourself to them. My 'disappearance' was very convenient to you. You declared me dead and decided to try a known enemy for my death. His execution would make your leadership a qualified success."

Sarn slowly lifted his laser and took aim. "Don't even think about it, Sarn. I have reason enough to want to kill you. Don't give me another."

Everyone turned to face the door and saw Eric standing there. Most recognized him on sight and all knew of his reputation. Sarn dropped his laser and Ryan picked it up with a smile. "Thank you, Eric." He turned back to H.P.. "You may be wondering why I would care about the fate of the man I said was my enemy. While I was away, I had what you might call a revelation and I began to change my ways. Col. Kelly played a major rôle." He moved next to his brother and Eric walked up the middle aisle to join them. No one made any move to stop him. They were too enthralled by Ryan's story.

"Our lives have been intertwined since childhood. I left and made a name for myself and amassed quite a fortune. I had things running my way until he caused me to be arrested. I escaped but they followed, shot me down, and left me for dead. I struggled back through reconstructive surgery with only one thing on my mind: revenge.

"I saw him again and left him to be blown up. He survived to once again ruin my plans. I went to Earth with the intent to kill him. I shot and him, we fought, then came the revelation." He nodded to Eric who reached for his wrist.

Alan looked up at him. "What are you doing?" he whispered.

"Saving your life," Ryan hissed back. "I realized, that despite the wealth and power, I had nothing to show for my life. If you revolve your life around such transitory things with no other interests, when you lose them, you have nothing to fall back on."

"What does this grand revelation have to do with rescuing your sworn enemy?" H.P. asked sarcastically.

"I found out that I had been adopted and I had a real family who cared for me."

"This sentimentality is very touching, but you still haven't explained."

"Oh?" He moved his left hand to his right wrist in a signal to Alan. His brother slowly realized what he meant and set the coordinates for home. "My real name is Ryan Kelly and the colonel is my twin." With that, the two disappeared.

"I wouldn't try to do anything about this, Harvey," Eric said. "You can't hide either, for we can track you down." He smiled. "We found you here, didn't we?" He spotted Liz in the crowd and winked. "Au revoir, mes amis." He disappeared.

* * * *

Alan had programmed the coordinates for his own quarters and, upon arrival, Ryan rushed him to the room Gil had prepared. Gil was there along with Dr. Burrows and a stranger. "This is Dr. Lopez, a specialist. He wants to examine you and see how the drug is working," Gil explained.

"You're definitely looking better," Burrows said.

"I feel better. Still a bit weak, though."

Lopez examined him thoroughly and declared him past danger. "You'll need to keep up the injections and you should be over the worst of it by the end of the month. Take things easy until then." He left.

Gil walked over. "I thought we'd really lost you that time. Evan and I were in agony waiting." He looked at Alan's left hand. "How did that hold up to the cold?"

"A little stiff. Do you have anything for it?"

"I'll go look."

Alan looked at Ryan. "I want to thank you for what you did. It must have taken a great deal of courage."

"When I started thinking about it, I realized Harvey was using both of us. He needed taking down a bit."

Gil returned with a small tin of lubricant. Alan held out his left hand, palm upwards. Gil lightly touched the wrist and a small patch of skin opened to reveal a myriad of circuits and wires. Ryan was amazed. "What's this? Do I have an android for a twin?"

Alan laughed. "That's right, you don't know. I lost my hand escaping from Raven with Eric. It's cybernetic. It has neural links which I can turn on and off at will, making it virtually impervious to pain."

"As long as that's the only part of you like that."

Gil applied the lubricant and pronounced the patient fit to be moved. "I'll stop by later tonight to check up on you and give you another injection."

"Fine." Alan slowly stood, leaning on Ryan for support. Once they were out in the hall, Alan said, "H.P. won't leave you alone now that you've given him an ideal reason for blackmail. He'll want to ruin you. C'mon, you called him Harvey in front of his followers."

"I couldn't resist. But what can I do to stop him?"

"There's only one thing I can think of. You have to let the proper people know that you were Derek Stoker. Blackmail is based on secrets. If you have nothing to hide, they have no hold over you."

"You want to throw me to the lions? They might decide to send me to a penal planet again."

"Not with my testimony of your rescue plus what your psychiatrist has to say. Eric was facing life imprisonment but his change of heart was taken into consideration."

"If you're sure."

"Besides, I think we can have testimony from the others as to how you've changed." He opened the door to his quarters and switched on the lights.

"Surprise!" Their friends and family jumped up from behind the furniture. "Happy Birthday!"

Evan was the first to greet them by giving them both hugs. "I thought I had lost you both for sure."

"As you know, Evan, we are a very resilient family," Alan said with a smile as he sat down. "All three of us have been thought dead at one point."

Gil came in behind them. "Happy Birthday."

"Did you know about this?" asked Alan.

"Yes. They," he nodded at the others, "wanted to celebrate once it was determined that you were out of danger." He handed a small package to Ryan.

"For me?" He looked at Gil. "This is the first present I've had in years."

"Go on, open it," said Eric.

Ryan tore the paper and opened the box. Inside was a time machine similar to those of the others. "I don't believe it."

"You're now a member of the TOC, Ryan. It's official."

"But how?"

"Gil and I called in a few favors," answered Evan. "We knew you had changed and your going after Alan proved that."

Shannon stepped forward. "Welcome to the TOC." She kissed him on the cheek.

"I could get used to this," he smiled.

16. Time and Again

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