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TOC Files 23: Time to Mourn

Title: Time to Mourn
Series: The TOC Files
Word Count 6687
Summary Alan is sent to a convention and becomes involved in a hostage situation




XXIII

Time to Mourn


He that lacks time to mourn lacks time to mend

Sir Henry Taylor, Philip van Arteveld, Pt I, I,v


Alan Kelly ran along the outside trail marked through the woods. He couldn’t believe how out of shape he was. People wouldn’t think it to look at him, but he knew he had let himself get too soft. The staying power was gone. He couldn’t run as far as he used to without his lungs burning. At least outside like this, he felt like he was going somewhere, not just in circles on a track.

When he was done, he returned to the changing rooms to find a message waiting for him. The temporal Committee wanted to see him and that could only mean a new mission. He quickly showered and changed into fatigues before rushing over. He thought of using his time machine but knew his sudden appearances unnerved some of the Committee members.

He was admitted into the Committee Room and was surprised that the other members of the Temporal Observers Corp--TOC--weren’t there. Maybe this was something of a sensitive nature they wanted to put by him first.

He saluted and stayed at attention until told otherwise. The Committee Chair looked up from her paperwork. “Col. Kelly. How good of you to be so prompt.”

“Yes. Well, I’ve learned the necessity of time management.” A few members smiled at his little joke. “Excuse me, ma’am, but where are the others? Is something wrong?”

“No, Colonel, there is nothing wrong. For this particular assignment, you are the only one needed.”

“Of a sensitive nature, is it? I’ve been hoping for a mission with a little intrigue.”

“Very little intrigue, I’m afraid. Very run of the mill, actually. We need you to go to Doflair and extol the virtues of the TOC.”

“What? You want me to play at diplomacy? You know I don’t have the temperament--or the patience--for it. And especially Doflair. Are you sure you don’t have some ulterior motive?”

“Your presence was requested specifically, Colonel.”

“Can’t Gil go? This is his baby, after all. What if some major temporal mission comes up while I’m gone?”

“Dr. Connor would be the better qualified if he were to speak in front of scientists. However, for those of us less technically-inclined, you are the better representative.”

“You’re not going to let me out of this, are you?”

“No. I am aware that you would prefer to see some action, but our hands are tied on this matter. It would be in the best interest of the Alliance if you would comply.”

“Fine. Just know that I’m doing this under protest.”

“Your protest is duly noted.”

“Will I be traveling in the conventional manner?”

“If you wish. We can give you the dates and related information.”

“I guess I should pack my dress uniform.”

“That would be a good idea,” said one of the other Committee members. “I would also recommend the medals.”

“You want me to go all out, hunh?”

“It’s expected, Colonel.”

Alan sighed in resignation. “Anything else?”

The Chairwoman smiled. “No, Colonel. That’s all.”

Alan saluted and left the room. They want me to go on what boils down to a publicity appearance. I had better not have to sign any autographs. Maybe it’ll be over quickly and I can be back before the others get another mission. They’ve never been on one without me. Well, they’ve been on enough that they should be able to handle it. It’s not as if they can’t function without me.

He then accessed his computer and refreshed his memory on Doflair’s troubles. Thirty years ago, Doflair’s closest neighbor, Riaggeo, arranged for mining and trading rights. The Doflarians, a race of artists and poets, welcomed the income this would bring. The Riaggeans took advantage of their neighbors’ naïveté in such matters and soon took over the planet, making it a colony and repressing the native culture. The governing body fled into exile and pleaded for intercession by the Alliance. Not wanting to upset the more powerful Riaggeans, the Alliance made no move to help.

Damn! Doflair. Of all the places to send me. For all I know, most of the people there despise the Alliance for not stepping in and helping them. Moreover, for me to go in wearing my uniform would be like waving a red flag in front of a charging bull.

He entered his quarters and gathered what few items he would need. His computer beeped and he saw that the Committee had wasted no time in giving him the information he needed. He downloaded the coordinates into his machine and left a message for his fellow TOC members before leaving.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Alan arrived a little ways off from the building where the main talks were to take place. Putting his duffle bag comfortable across his back, he proceeded to blend in with the crowd watching the arrivals. Dressed casually, he drew no attention to himself. Yes, his clothes looked Military, but that was part of the hip new style. He looked about and could see that for these new arrivals the streets had been cleaned and spruced up in an attempt to cover up some of the disrepair this once great city had endured. Somehow, he knew if he left the main roads, he would encounter squalor and poverty.

Feigning ignorance, he asked a fellow spectator what was going on. “Alliance big-wigs are arriving for the talks.”

“Is that all? I thought it was some major celebrity by the way everyone’s acting.”

“But it is,” answered the youthful gawker. “Everyone’s been saying that Col. Alan Kelly himself will be here.”

Alan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Jayzus, all this for a pilot?”

The spotlights that were criss-crossing the gathering like an old-time Hollywood premiere found him and he froze until they continued. He disappeared before the Media realized he was there.



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



Wait, go back,” said the director of the event. “I think I saw someone in the crowd.”

The cameraman complied and panned back. “There’s no one there now, ma’am.”

“I could have sworn I saw him. Right next to that guy in bright red.”

“Saw who?”

“Kelly.” She went over to the monitors and got an immediate playback. She paused and zoomed in on the face. “I was right. It is him.” She spoke into her link. “Okay, guys. Keep your eyes open. Kelly’s here somewhere. He was spotted near the front entrance. Let me know when you have him.”

The word then buzzed through the crowd that Kelly was there, posing as one of them. Not many had ever seen him, or even a photo. They stared at every male stranger wondering Is that him?



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Alan finally made his way discreetly to one of the side entrances. The guard refused to let him in as it was for authorized personnel only.

“Oh, I think I’m authorized. I even have the eagles to prove it.”

“I still need some ID, sir.”

Alan tried to contain his building anger. “I understand you’re just doing your job, but I need to get inside before those cameras spot me.” He tried to think if he even brought his ID.

“I’m sorry, sir, but without ID you couldn’t get in there even if you were---”

“Col. Kelly, there you are.” A man dressed in a suit came over to them. “It’s all right, Forbes.”

Forbes, who had stood at attention once he heard Alan’s name, briefly nodded. “At ease, Forbes,” said Alan. “Job well done.”

“Thank you, sir.” He saluted as Alan passed inside.

Alan turned to the man walking beside him. “Jason, what are you doing here? Didn’t they trust me?”

“They knew you would probably object, so I was assigned to back you up.”

“Good. You know about as much as I do about how this whole thing works.” As they approached the rooms where the other dignitaries had gathered, Alan asked, “Do I need my dress uniform?”

“Now? No. It’s more or less a getting-to-know-you occasion. You probably will once they really start. The Media, you understand.”

“They’re not being broadcast, are they?”

“Good Lord, no. They just like to waylay people on the way out, so I think the uniform would be a good thing. Plus, it’ll impress the others no end.”

Alan and Jason entered the room where the talks were to take place. As Jason had said, it was an introductory meeting, a time for socializing before the actual talks began. Alan deposited his bag by the door, took out his uniform jacket, adjusted his clothes, and headed for the bar before he was prevented from doing so. Once he had his drink, he put on his jacket showing his rank and the insignia of the TOC. Taking a deep breath, he headed into the crowd.

As he knew would happen, the dignitaries all grouped around him once they realized who he was. Some were actually genuine in their admiration; none of that “kissing up” that annoyed him. Then there were those who thought he was just some jumped-up pilot who didn’t deserve to be there. He just ignored them.

When it was time to go up to his room, he was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. He would treat this like any other mission and do his best. As long as they don’t ask any stupid questions when it’s my turn.



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



On the third day of the conference, it was Alan’s turn. He decided to start with an extremely simplified version of Gil’s theory of time travel. “Picture time as a straight piece of string, one made up of many threads. Our traveling enables us to jump from one spot to another instantaneously, as if folding the string so that two parts touch. The TOC’s main duty, obviously, is to observe, but we also try to keep things on track, make sure history goes as it should. If something happens that shouldn’t, the threads start fraying which could break the string if left unchecked. That would erase history as we know it, changing our present in innumerable ways.

“Of course time travel raises many philosophical questions, even paradoxes. The most famous of these is the Grandfather Paradox. Let’s say, I go back in time and kill ol’ Granddad when he’s a boy. This prevents him from marrying and having kids, so I can’t be born to go back and kill him in the first place. This is still being debated by the best.” He then opened the floor to a barrage of questions. Some he had no idea how to answer and was glad for Jason’s presence.

When it was over, he heaved a sigh of relief. It wasn’t as bad as he had anticipated, but he never wanted to do it again. One of the other dignitaries caught him on the way out to discuss some of the finer points of his missions. When the main doors opened, he was confronted by the Media who held their cameras in his face. Damn! I had forgotten about them. Oh, well, there’s no avoiding it now.

“Col. Kelly!” called one. “Why are you here?”

“Orders,” he replied with a grin. “Can’t go against those. Believe me, I’ve tried.” That got him a few laughs.

“Does that mean you thought this ‘assignment’ beneath you?” asked another.

“Not at all. I just thought there were those better suited for the task than myself.”

“Do you see yourself more of a ‘Man of Action’, then?”

“I guess you could say that. Usually when I open my mouth, I get in trouble.” He answered a few more questions on the conference in general before the Media turned their attention elsewhere.

Jason caught up with him. “You handled that well. Tossed in a few jokes. One would think you were a pro.”

“For one time, yes, but under constant scrutiny, I’d probably lose it.”

“Oh, before I forget. We’ve all been presented with tickets to the theatre tonight.”

“C’mon, Jason. Do I need to be tortured further? I just want to go up to my room and lie down, maybe watch a little TV.”

“It’s Shakespeare,” Jason added.

Alan stopped. “What play?” he asked.

Hamlet.”

He took a deep breath. “I am tempted, but I’m so worn out.”

“It’s the Roving Stratford Company. Universally renown. Just thought you might want to compare.”

“I’ll think on it. What time’s curtain?”

“1600. See you tonight,” said Jason as he left.

“Don’t hold your breath!” Alan called after him.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



The first thing Alan did upon reaching his room was to change out of his uniform. Much better. He then called for room service. He flipped on the TV and sat back as the news came on. Of course, the conference was the top story. He came across pretty well: not too snobby, not too stupid.

His food arrived and he tipped the waiter. He put his feet up and began to switch through the channels. This was something he rarely had the chance to indulge in. He stopped when he found something on that acting company Jason had said was performing that night. The praise was lavish, and, after seeing numerous clips, Alan could see why. They were good. Maybe he’d go see them after all.

He finished dinner and took a quick shower before changing into some comfortable civvies. Checking himself in the mirror, he knew he looked ready for a night at the theatre. He left the hotel by the side door to avoid those hanging around the front. He waved down a taxi and climbed in.

The driver was rather garrulous. “Been a comeback for his stuff, y’know,” he said, looking at Alan through the rearview mirror. “Became popular once again a few years back.”

"Know why?"

"There are stories," he sat conspiritorially. "A secret Alliance project that sends people back in time. One says they went back to see Shakespeare."

“ ‘They’?” questioned Alan.

“The TOC,” the driver answered almost reverently.

“So, you think these guys are the best, let alone real?”

“Oh, yeah. I mean it takes guts to do that, y’know. They could end up anywhere.”

“I think precautions are taken to save lives. If anything were to happen to one of the TOC, they would need to train someone else.”

“But they’re heroes. That must be the reason,” the driver defended.

“Of course.” They were nearing the theatre. “You have some paper on you? I need to write something down.”

“Sure.” The driver handed him a blank receipt. “How’s that?”

“Fine.” Alan dated the paper and signed it, giving the driver a memento. Alan paid with his card then slipped the paper into the man’s hand as he got out. “Thanks for the lift.”

The driver looked at the paper in his hand then at his passenger’s retreating back. Could it be the real guy or was it just some joke? He slipped it into his pocket. It would make a good story either way. He drove off for more fares.

Alan joined the queue at the box office. He knew he could have gotten into the orchestra section but could concentrate better on the play itself if he knew he wasn’t the object of scrutiny. He got his ticket for the gallery then made his way to the seat.

The theatre pleasantly surprised him. From the outside, it looked like a block of cement--grey and nondescript. Inside, however, it was like turning back the clock several centuries. Everything looked very elaborate and ornate. Something the Riaggeans decided to keep from the Doflarian “Golden Age”. Contemporary music was being played over the loudspeakers that ruined the overall effect, but authenticity of that degree probably wasn’t what they were aiming for.

He looked down into the orchestra seats and saw the other dignitaries. They were all dressed in their finest, on display just as much as the actors were. The lights dimmed and Alan sat back to enjoy the words of his good friend Will.

He hadn’t attended the theatre--modern-day at least--in a number of years and it was as if he was experiencing it for the first time all over again. Theatre had suffered with advancements in computer entertainment until some entrepreneur decided to put the two together. Now the theatre was a feast for all the senses. A person became fully immersed in the experience.

Alan leaned forward in his seat to absorb everything. The curtains parted to reveal the battlements of Elsinore Castle and the guards setting the tone. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. God, these guys are terrible! Granted, these are minor characters, but that shouldn’t excuse the quality of the acting. I was expecting something along the lines of the RSC. Put these guys in a forest and they’d blend right in!

He must have groaned a little louder than intended because he heard people shushing him. He didn’t feel like walking out and ruining everyone else’s night for they all seemed to be enjoying it. He sat back, closed his eyes, and tried to re-live the first performance of Hamlet at the Globe. The voices of the actors onstage became those of himself, the other members of the TOC, and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

When it came to Act IV Scene v, he sensed something wasn’t right. As he opened his eyes and let them adjust to the theatre’s lighting, he could feel a tension in the air. Something was about to happen. He peered at the stage and spotted an actor out of place. Hamlet wasn’t due on until the next act, the churchyard scene. His soldiering instincts made him get up from his seat and head for the exit. The doors were blocked by two men, which confirmed his suspicions. This was a hostage situation. Best to find out what’s going on before I reveal my presence.

The lights in the theatre flickered and dimmed. The actor playing Horatio came forward. “Ladies and gentlemen, there is nothing to worry about. We’ll soon have everything under control. If you’ll just stay seated, no one will get hurt.”

Alan knew a veiled threat when he heard one. He watched as Ophelia walked forward. “I apologize for the inconvenience, but we will need your cooperation tonight. We are using this stage to put forth the grievances on how the Alliance is handling the situation here on Doflair. As long as everyone does as they are told, no one will be hurt.” She motioned with her hand and the houselights came on. She looked straight at the dignitaries. “Ah, so many distinguished guests. But one of you is missing,” she said, noticing the empty seat. “No matter, I think there are enough of you.”

The representative from Varuna stood. “How long do you plan to keep us here?”

“That depends on how quickly the Alliance responds to our demands. They have been notified and we should be hearing from them soon. We meant what we said. We don’t want anyone hurt, so please remain seated and don’t try any heroics.”

Alan sat back. He was never one to refuse a challenge. But how to go about it? The first thing to do was to get rid of those guards at the doors. For that, he needed a little help. He heard his neighbors whispering among themselves. Perhaps he could enlist their help. He insinuated himself into the conversation. “I’ve got an idea to get us out of here.”

“Are you mad? These people are armed!” declared one.

“They can’t shoot all of us at once. We just need a distraction so we can knock these two out. It’s a separate exit for the rest of the theatre. We’ll be home free.”

“But they promised no one would be hurt,” said a second. “What if they take our leaving out on the others?”

“Good point. I don’t think they’ll do anything. Those guys down there are too valuable.”

“You talk like you’ve done this kind of thing before,” said yet another.

“Could be,” he grinned. “Now, this is what I was thinking. A group of us overwhelm them with questions, demands, whatever, while someone sneaks up behind and knocks them out.” He looked at them for approval.

“It could work,” said the first. “If they really don’t want to hurt anyone, these guys are probably under orders not to shoot.” He looked at Alan. “Count me in.”

After more persuasive arguments, the rest of those in the gallery agreed to the plan. Alan and the first man to agree, Simons, were to knock out the two guards. “Remember, the least amount of noise possible. We don’t want to attract attention.”

A small group walked over to speak with one of the guards. Out of “curiosity”, more joined them. Needing help, the guard appealed to his fellow, who walked over. Sensing the right moment, Alan signaled Simons and they overpowered the guards. Alan warned them to remain silent until they were sure they hadn’t been heard. Once he was sure all was well, they headed for the exit.

He followed them but paused when he noticed a partially concealed door. Thinking this could be his way to the stage, he opened it. “What are you doing?” asked Simons.

“Something idiotic. You go on. I’ll be OK. They don’t want to hurt anyone, right?” Alan flashed him a grin. “I can handle myself.”

“I can see that. Good luck, Colonel.”

Alan watched him leave then headed through the door. It opened to the gantries that crisscrossed the theatre’s ceiling. If I can just get close enough to surprise them. Might be able to work something out. He paused and looked down at the stage. Looks like Ophelia’s in charge. I wonder what weaknesses I can play on.

Alan continued and quietly climbed down the ladder to the backstage area. Luckily, these invaders thought everyone was out front and under a watchful eye. He walked to the right wing and looked out at the group. The main leaders were Ophelia, Laertes, and Hamlet. They were the ones he’d have to watch. The others were just lackeys and hangers-on.

Laertes and Ophelia moved close to where he was and he stepped back into the shadows. “What are we going to do if the Alliance doesn’t cave?” asked Laertes.

“Oh, they will. They can’t risk losing so many eminent personages.” She was confident. “C’mon, we can’t let them see any uncertainties.” She started to walk away.

“It’s just that we can’t keep those actors locked up for much longer,” said Laertes, following.

“Oh, thank God for small mercies,” declared Alan as he stepped onto the stage. “I would hate to think that the most renowned company couldn’t act for beans.”

“Who are you?” demanded Laertes.

“ ‘Though I am not splenitive and rash, Yet I have in me something dangerous Which let thy wisdom fear.’” Amazed at the blank looks he was receiving, Alan groaned. “Good Lord! If you’re going to pretend to be actors, you should at least know the play.”

“Act V, scene I,” said Ophelia. “You still didn’t answer the question. Who are you to go around spouting Hamlet? An actor?”

“Of sorts.” Alan took a seat on one of the prop chairs. “As for knowing Hamlet, it was my best effort. I’ve heard that I made it a tough act to follow.”

“Well, where did you perform? I might have heard of you.”

“Up on your Shakespeare, are you? Know all the actors who’ve played the Dane?”

“This whole thing was my idea. I’d have to know about the play and past performances in order to know how to go about it.”

Alan smiled. I’ll just have a little fun. “The Globe.”

“Which reconstruction?”

“I caught a few shows in the later ones, but never performed in them.” It was time to drop the surprise. “It was the original Globe and I was the original Hamlet.”

He allowed it to sink in. “Then you must be Kelly,” said Ophelia. “This is an honor.”

“How kind of you to say so,” he said with a mock bow of his head.

Thanks to the wonderful acoustics, all in the theatre heard their exchange. There was much whispering among the audience. Those from the conference were finally getting a chance to see Alan in his element and the public was finally getting a chance to see him.

Ophelia knew that this crowd could change to a mob at a single word or gesture from the man lounging in front of her. Is he alone? Or are there others planted in the audience? “How did you get in, Colonel? We’ve had men guarding the exits since the play started.”

“Bought my ticket like everyone else. You get a nice view from the gallery.” Her eyes immediately looked up. “Don’t worry. There’s no one up there now except for your guards taking a little nap.”

Laertes turned his gun on Alan. “This should wipe that smile off your face.”

“No. Don’t,” commanded Ophelia.

“Are you going to let him get away with this?”

“What? He hasn’t done anything damaging yet. Plus, if we kill him, who will believe our promise that this was to be non-violent?”

“Smart move,” said Alan. “The Alliance normally doesn’t give in to--how shall I put this? --terrorists. However, if you don’t shoot anyone, they might realize that you’re sincere.”

“We are not terrorists!” proclaimed Hamlet. “We are political activists hoping to rid our planet of tyranny!”

“There’s one in every bunch,” Alan muttered under his breath. “If you handle this properly,” he said to Ophelia, “you might get better publicity for your cause.”

“We need to make people stand up and take notice, not sit in their comfy chairs and say ‘Oh, what a pity’ before changing the channel,” said Laertes.

“That’s exactly what you need,” stressed Alan. “Blowing things up and killing will only make people think you’re no better than barbarians. If you protest and make your point known through non-violent means, it’ll make more people curious as to your situation. Look at Gandhi and Martin Luther King for example.”

“They were both assassinated,” said Hamlet.

“That’s beside the point. People sympathized with them and they won.” He could tell he was winning over Ophelia. Thing was, could she control the others?

“And they say you are a great hero,” sneered Laertes. “All you do is talk. Where is the bravery in that?”

Alan was not one to take being called a coward lightly. He held back his temper. “I face all of you unarmed, not knowing the outcome, whereas you take a group of innocent civilians hostage. Now you tell me which takes more courage.”

Laertes blustered with indignation. “Are you calling me a coward?”

“I don’t recall using the word.”

“But that’s what you implied.” He searched the stage and spotted the swords that were to be used in the final duel between Hamlet and Laertes. “There’s only one way to settle this.” He tossed one of the rapiers at Alan. It landed at his feet and Alan made no attempt to stand. “Go on! Pick it up!”

“Is there any way to talk you out of this?”

“No.” He stood determined.

‘Very well. I’ll fight, but I want to make a deal. For every hit I make, you let a section of the audience go.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“Those are my terms.”

“Done,” said Ophelia.

Alan unwound himself slowly from his comfortable position and picked up the sword. “Same ground rules as in the play.” Laertes nodded. “All right.” Alan took up his position.



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



From his seat near the front, Jason watched as Alan and the actor/terrorist circled each other. He smiled, knowing that Alan had a definite advantage being a trained soldier. Also in his favor was his ability to excel with any weapon placed in his hand.

He must have been grinning like an idiot because one of the delegates nudged him. “What are you smiling about?”

“Alan. We’re as good as out of here. The man’s a natural with any weapon.”

“Are you sure?”

“Doubting your hero? He was Robin Hood. He beat the Taborzan general with a weapon he had never used before. He also fought Morgan the pirate. Shall I go on?” The man shook his head and they both turned their full attention to the stage.

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

Alan was blocking every move Laertes made. The man knew how to handle a sword but was letting his anger carry him. He would tire soon. Alan only smiled which irritated his opponent even more. As they circled each other, Alan took count of his weaknesses and stored them for future reference. As Laertes began to tire, Alan knew it was time to go on the attack.

Laertes was surprised when Alan attacked and was forced back a few paces. He blocked what he could but Alan soon hit him on the chest. “I believe Section A can leave now,” Alan stated. Ophelia honored her word and let those sitting to the left of the stage to leave. “Thank you.” He looked back at his opponent. “Shall we continue?”

It wasn’t long before Alan had gained the release of the remainder of the audience. Laertes was panting and seemed to be waiting for another chance. To show he felt no threat, Alan turned his back as he spoke to Ophelia. “I hate to sound clichéd, but the authorities probably have the building surrounded. I’d say you have a couple of avenues open to you.”

“Which are to go out guns blazing and possibly be killed, or surrender quietly. Is that right?”

“They’re the only ones I can think of. Of course, the final decision rests with you, but I’d go with the quiet surrender. That way you’ll have more of a chance to continue your fight and bring more attention to your cause. The other way, well, you’ll be forgotten after a time or remembered as a group of crazies. I’ll be on my way now. ‘If we do meet again, why we shall smile! If not, why, then, this parting was well made.’” With a mock bow, he left the stage. He could feel their eyes on him as he walked up the center aisle and the lobby door.

The lobby was flooded with spotlights, blinding him. “Halt!” demanded a voice from beyond the light. “Hands where I can see them!”

“Is this the thanks I get? I’d settle for a handshake and a pat on the back.”

“Sir?” the man questioned.

Alan realized he was talking to police, not army. He tried to look past the lights, but all he saw was shadows. “Will someone please douse those damn lights!”

Jason came up to him as soon as the lights went out. “I told them what you did. They want to talk to you, of course.”

“Of course. Just point me in the right direction. I’m still seeing spots from those lights.”

Jason laughed and helped him to the vehicle that was acting as a command post. A tall stocky man turned upon their approach. “Alan, this is Captain Tyran of the Doflair police.”

Tyran held out his hand. “An honor, Colonel. Too bad you’re not seeing Doflair at its best. We’re normally tranquil--”


“Spare me the brochure, Captain. For some reason, I find it rather hard to swallow. Inviting these delegates was giving these people an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. What kind of manpower do you have?”

“One hundred armed men surrounding the building with snipers aiming at the front and rear exits. Do you know how many terrorists we’re looking at?”

“Not a definite number, no, but I’d guess somewhere between 15 and 20.”

"But don't rush them," cautioned Alan. "Yeah you have a few hot tempers but hopefully cooler heads will prevail. I tried to point out that their options, so who knows?"

"We can always storm the building," mused Tyran.

"And cause unwanted bloodshed? I don't think so these are your usual terrorists. They're more political activists who just want their grievances heard. "

"Why can't they just go through channels?" "

"They are native Doflarians. The usual channels aren’t open to them. That's one of the grievances. "

"Ah."

"Why is it that I can't go anywhere up without chaos ensuing?"

"Because you’re you," said Jason. "Some people just either attract it or gravitate towards it. You know you like living dangerously. You'd go stir crazy if you were forced behind a desk or something. "

"Like you?"

"Well, yeah, but I'm cut out for that. I'm 'Mr. Average', 'Mr. Anonymous'. You'd stick out like a sore thumb."

"I guess I would at that. "

Seeing no action from within, Tyran had his men fall back, leaving the sharpshooters to do the work. Now was the hard part: waiting. Alan knew that given enough time of inactivity, Tyran would have no choice other than to storm the building.

The press seemed to be milking this for all it was worth, interviewing all those who had been inside. It wouldn’t be long before they spotted Alan. The fact that he was on the opposite side of the barricades was the only thing that saved him.

He was craving a decent coffee but knew no such thing existed here. The art of coffee brewing died out ages ago—and so did the plants. Maybe he’d go back to Columbia in the late 20th century and buy a few plants. He’d be in on the ground floor of something good if he could cultivate them...

Jason nudged him. “I think we’ve got movement.”

Drawn back to the present, Alan turned to face the theatre. He couldn’t tell which side was moving. He went to Tyran. “What’re we looking at?”

“My men have reported that the doors between the lobby and the theatre itself have opened. Looks like some are ready to give themselves up.”

Alan noted the some. “How many?”

Tyran relayed the question to his men. He passed on the reply to Alan. “From what you said before, about half.”

But which half? “Can I borrow your night glasses?” Tyran complied and Alan focused on the front of the building. He couldn’t see Ophelia. So that meant those were the hotheads. But, then, they could have done something to her... He didn’t know why he cared so much. Could it be that she was passionate about her cause? That she was brilliant? That she was beautiful might have had a hand in it as well.

Tyran moved his men closer. “Remember,” he warned them, “these aren’t your regular terrorists. They are willing to become martyrs for their cause. We want to avoid that. Don’t shoot unless you have to, and, even then, only to wound.”

Alan watched through his borrowed night glasses as the terrorists approached the main entrance. A group of perhaps five formed a protective line for one in the center, his back to them.” Alan guessed it was either Laertes or Hamlet. Something happened, literally, in the blink of an eye. Someone fired and Tyran ordered his men to shoot.

The man in the center turned forward and Alan saw it was Hamlet. He was holding Ophelia in front of him like a shield. “No! Don’t fire!” he shouted.

“What are you thinking?” asked Jason. “She’s one of them.”

“If that were the case, would they be holding her as hostage? You know she was ready to break.” He ran forward but his time with Jason had cost him dearly. The men had been gunned down and Ophelia was lying, half-covered by Hamlet’s body. She gave him a weak smile. “I guess you were right. Perhaps I was too idealistic for them.” She coughed.

“What happened?” Alan asked as he tried to make her comfortable.

“I wanted to do as you said, but they refused saying that nothing would come of it. They decided to use me because they wanted to prove that the soldiers wouldn’t hesitate to shoot at the slightest provocation.”

“Well, that definitely proved true.” He tried to make her smile. He knew there was no way to save her. He looked up as Tyran’s men prepared to get the rest of the activists inside. He looked back at Ophelia and saw her shiver slightly. He chivalrously took off his jacket and wrapped it about her. He dreaded what he had to do next. He swallowed and prepared to ask his question.

“There are no booby traps inside,” she said, anticipating his question. “The men inside are armed but no match for all the men here.” She coughed. “You know that this was not how I wanted this to end. Please tell people about the plight of my planet. Don’t let them think we’re all mindless gun-toting terrorists.” Her voice was getting weaker.

“I’m sure I could enlist the help of some of the delegates. I don’t know your name, though.”

She closed her eyes and smiled weakly. “Chai.” Her grasp on his hand weakened and her hand fell to her side.

Something possessed Alan. Maybe it was just because he had never met a woman like her before. He lifted her body and walked off to the side. He gently laid her on the ground. “ ‘Death, in they possession lies a lass unparalleled.’”

Jason stood silently beside him, seeing how death affected them. He knew words would be useless at this point. He watched as Alan stood and gave the woman’s body one last look. The sadness in his eyes was so haunting.

Looking down at the body, a sudden determination filled him. Something had to be done. He had been sent strictly as a delegate and had no authority whatsoever as Doflair wasn’t part of the Alliance, so that meant he was not to get involved in politics. However, he had never been one for diplomacy. If they wanted to suspend him for what he was about to do, fine. Even the threat of a court-martial had lost its sting. Been there, done that. He straightened his shoulders, took a deep breath, and then headed for the barricades.

It took Jason a few moments to register this change and Alan’s immediate goal. “Wait! What do you think you’re doing?” He rushed after him.

“I have to do it, Jason. If you don’t want to get caught in the fallout, you had better head the other way.”

Jason stopped and watched as Alan continued. He had already been suspended once for helping the TOC do something they shouldn’t. He didn’t know what a second infraction would entail. He looked back at the woman’s body and that decided him. He caught up with Alan. “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

Alan smiled. “I figured that’s what you’d do.” He turned and saw the media vying for camera angles and positions to interview him. They looked like piranhas and he was a fat juicy steak.

“Colonel! Can you tell us what happened?”

“Kelly! Who were they?”

“Why did they take hostages?”

Alan tried to take all the questions into account as he prepared to speak. “The group who took over the theatre were Doflorian activists who wanted their grievances heard. They felt this was the best way to get the attention of the Alliance since they virtually had no voice on their own planet. That it took such an act to bring attention to the plight of the Doflarians shows that there are faults in how the Alliance handles these situations. I know I’m not a diplomat, so there may be other conditions to be taken into account. It’s just that there was no need for this to happen. No need at all. If we can remedy this, we hopefully can avoid a repeat performance.”

The media went into a frenzy, demanding more, but Alan knew that if he spoke any further on the subject, it wouldn’t be so controlled. Let the real diplomats take over. He and Jason walked away from the crowd, a companionable silence between them.

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