Author: Diamond-Raven PM
After a backstep goes horribly wrong, Frank Parker dies and the panel refuses to authorize another backstep to bring him backRated: Fiction T - English - Angst - Words: 22,787 - Reviews: 23 - Favs: 19 - Follows: 4 - Published: 12-02-03 - Status: Complete - id: 1626122
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: The characters of this wonderful and now sadly cancelled show never belonged to me.
Summary: Frank Parker is killed during a back-step and the panel refuses to authorize the necessary back-step to bring him back. The team tries to accept this and quickly realizes that they can't.
Frank groaned and leaned against the elevator walls, rubbing his temples. Craig and him had stayed up for hours last night, drinking and playing poker. Not only had Frank lost miserably and now owed Craig over a hundred bucks, but he had one hell of a hangover.
The elevator door chimed and the doors slid open. Frank slowly pushed himself off the wall and shuffled out of the elevator. Slowly, slowly. As long as he moved slowly his head wouldn't explode.
He yawned. He was dead tired and so hungover he could hardly open his eyes without his head blowing up. This was hell.
He shuffled his way down the hall, grunting a greeting to people whom he passed. He rounded the corner and reached the office doors.
Suddenly, somebody came up behind him and slapped him playfully on the back.
Frank groaned as his head spun around painfully. "What the hell?"
Craig laughed from behind him. "Oh, man, Frank. Didn't find the Advil this morning, huh?"
Frank attempted a smile, and glanced at his best friend, only to have his head explode.
He nearly fell over. Craig laughed again and clutched his arm as he pushed open the glass doors and shoved him inside. Frank nearly fell flat on his face when Craig let go of him, but Craig grabbed him again and pushed him into a chair.
Frank collapsed, his head on the table. He didn't even notice the others sitting around him.
Oh man. This was hell. His head was bursting and he couldn't even open his eyes, never mind sit up straight.
"Party a little too much last night, Parker?" Came Nathan's sneering voice.
"Shut up, Ramsey." Frank mumbled, feeling too crappy to look up and glare at him.
Bradley cleared his throat and Nathan stopped laughing.
"Good morning everybody. I know it's a little early and some people aren't exactly morning people here, however, we have another emergency."
Great. Fantastic, Frank thought. Another back step. And with this hangover, the ride would be worse. Oh man. Why couldn't somebody shove him into an electric chair just about now? At least that way, his head would only fry, not explode.
Frank groaned and rubbed his temples. Oh well. The world needed saving again. Frank to the rescue once more. Even if it would be a hungover Frank.
Without looking at the rest of his team mates, he knew what they were doing.
Owsley was probably praying that whatever the emergency was, it didn't come with any crime scene photos. Frank smiled. The kid had a horribly weak stomach. Olga was putting on her glasses, ready to read the file Ramsey was about to hand out. She kept looking at him. Frank could feel her eyes on him.
She was glaring, Frank could feel it. She had warned him that he'd probably die of alcohol poisoning before he was thirty the way he was going. He had replied that if that happened, he'd only welcome it since that would be a darn good excuse for her to jump into the sack with him.
A last act of gratitude for the many times Frank had saved her little behind in some mess or another. Frank grinned. She'd just gaped at him, unable to come up with a good enough retort.
Bradley looked around at his team. "It was a disastrous accident. Six days ago, a bridge in Washington was vandalized and the whole thing collapsed. Many people were killed."
Craig frowned. "And we're only hearing about this now?"
"The panel didn't want us to bother with it unless it proved to be a national emergency. As they were digging up bodies—"
Frank heard Owsley groan.
"—they discovered that a French diplomat and his family had been killed in the accident, as well as several senators. As soon as the panel had received that news, they ordered for a back step. Not only are these senators deemed as essential for our country, but I doubt that France took the news well that America blew up one of their diplomats."
Olga was silently shaking her head. "Oh, God. All those poor families. There must have been hundreds killed."
Bradley nodded. "They've discovered 760 bodies so far. The bridge collapsed in the middle of the day when it was completely covered in traffic."
Frank raised his head an inch. Okay, so far, so good. No stars exploding yet.
"How'd they do it?" He asked.
Nathan was walking around the table, handing everybody a file to read. When he got to Frank, he held the file above his head and turned to Bradley.
"Uhm, sir? Are you sure you want me to give this to Parker? I mean, in the state he's in, he couldn't read if you held a gun to his head."
Frank mumbled a little "Shut up, Ramsey," and tried to grab the file. He nearly fell off his chair. Nathan smirked.
Bradley ignored both of them and instead opened his drawer and pulled out a bottle of Advil. Unscrewing the lid, he took out two tablets.
"They screwed sticks of dynamite to the bottom of the middle of the bridge. When they lit it, the entire middle exploded, making the whole bridge collapse," He said, handing the tablets and a glass of water to Frank.
Frank took them gratefully and swallowed the pills. Nathan threw Frank's file onto the table in front of him. Frank glared at him in gratitude.
"Who did it?" Owsley asked. He hadn't touched his file. No wonder. Frank could see tons of crime scene pictures stuffed in the file. He didn't look at them. Always upset him too much. Owsley had a point.
Bradley glanced at him. Frank opened his file and stared at a picture of the collapsed bridge. Cars were flung everywhere and the crumbled cement lay in a heap, half of it sunk into the water beneath it. Cables and twisted rods of metal hung everywhere. In the middle there was a huge pile of cars lying there, some so badly mangled that Frank couldn't even tell that they used to be cars.
"We have a pretty good lead as to who did this. An anarchist group who have been rotating around America in the past year. Most of their demonstrations have been mischievous, but none so disastrous. If you all look at page 3, that's a picture of their leader. Darrel McLaughlin."
Frank flipped the pages, noticing that his head was slowly starting to function normally again. He sighed with relief. Maybe the back step would be endurable.
He stared at the picture of Darrel. He had curly black hair and green eyes. Frank noticed a scar on his left cheek. That would be a good identification mark. His eyes skimmed over the rest of the picture but he didn't notice anything else that made this man different from any other he'd met before in his life, so he put the picture down. He yawned and rubbed his eyes.
Olga looked up. "Your head better, Mr.Parker?"
He smiled. "Hey, I didn't know you cared that much."
She rolled her eyes and went back to reading her file. Annoying, immature little brat. He'd never change. She shook her head. Not that she wanted him to.
Frank looked up at Bradley. "So, I go back there, find McLaughlin, clock him, then go and cart away an armload of dynamite? That's it?"
"Pretty much, Frank."
Frank shrugged. "Piece of cake."
Craig grinned. "Yeah, for you maybe."
Frank smiled back. "Come on, Donovan. I gotta go suit up."
Bradley nodded. "Get your things together, Frank. You're leaving in 20 minutes."
Frank gingerly pushed himself up, surprised to find his head not spinning. Craig came around the table and put his arm under Frank's.
"Come on, buddy. Let's get you changed and into that blue thing. And until then, you better sober up quick time."
"No kidding. Ever go through a blender with a hangover?"
Craig thought for a moment. "Nope. Can't say I have."
"Well, I have. And I will in about 20 minutes. It ain't fun, trust me."
Craig laughed and pushed open the door, pulling Frank with him.
Frank walked down the long hallway, his helmet in one hand, his duffel bag in the other. He hated the orange suit. So big and bulky. And the color! Orange had never suited him. After all these years, the countless times he'd worn it, he still couldn't get over what kind of an idiot that designer scientist freak had been who had made this thing be orange. What a moron.
Frank stopped and turned around. Olga was walking towards him, in her hand a small white bottle.
"Coming to give me a farewell kiss?"
She smiled as she rolled her eyes. "Not quite. But I have something here that will help you handle the nausea you'll feel when in the sphere." She unscrewed the lid of the bottle and took out a small pill. She handed it to him and gave him a glass of water.
He swallowed the pill. "You're a lifesaver, Olga."
She smiled. "Out of the two of us, I think you deserve to have that title."
He gave her one of his lopsided grins. "Without you Olga, I wouldn't be able to go through all this hell everyday. I mean, when I'm sitting there in the sphere and I think I might hurl my guts out if it didn't stop in the next second, I think of you sitting on my bed, stark naked. That helps me get through."
She laughed and whacked him on the head. "You are the most immature, annoying brat I've ever met in my entire life."
"Hey, nobody ever said that immature and annoying were bad qualities. As for the brat thing, I'll take it as a compliment."
She smiled and shook her head. "You're impossible."
"I know." He grinned. "And you love me for it."
"Not quite, Mr.Parker," she said and turned to go to the control center.
"Hey! What about my good bye kiss?" he called after her.
Sighing in exasperation, she turned around and came up to him. Muttering under her breath about juvenile delinquents, she gave him a small kiss on the cheek.
"Now, you go and be a good boy," She ordered.
He bowed. "Always."
Laughing, he turned around and walked down the hallway towards the sphere.
Shaking her head and still smiling, she walked towards the control center.
"Reactor at twenty percent," Olga said, her headset firmly on her head as she glanced from the reactor meter up at the screen where Frank was grinning at her.
Owsley looked up at the screen too.
"You better go and kick butt, Frank. I don't think I'll live through a round of crime scene pictures again."
Frank smiled at him. "I'll see what I can do. I don't know. Maybe I'll sit McLaughlin down for a bottle of beer and play poker with him. Winner gets the dynamite."
Craig laughed. "Man, in that case, it isn't just the bridge that's gonna blow. Nate's gonna blow entire NNL to pieces when he hears the deal you made."
Frank shrugged. "Ramsey's always been prone to temper tantrums."
"Reactor at seventy percent," Olga interrupted him.
Craig looked at up Frank. "Hey. Take care of yourself, buddy."
Frank smiled. "Always do."
"Reactor at ninety percent."
Frank pulled down his helmet and clicked it shut. He turned and started pressing the various buttons on the wall of the sphere, punching in his destination coordinates.
"Frank?" Frank looked up. Bradley was standing in the control center.
Frank smiled at the familiar words. "Thank you, sir."
Olga looked up at him. "You better come back in one piece, Mr.Parker. I hate wasting good medicine."
She glanced at the reactor meter. "Reactor at hundred percent." She gave Frank the familiar nod.
Frank leaned forward and punched the engage button.
In seconds, everything disappeared and Frank was being hurled through space and time itself, the joy stick firmly clutched in his hands as he gritted his teeth to keep from screaming. Slowly, the days blinked backwards. One more day, one more day, one more day. Frank closed his eyes as he felt his entire body being torn apart. One more day.
One more day.
(a week earlier)
Frank pulled on his coat and checked to make sure his gun was loaded. Isaac couldn't have picked a better spot to drop him. He could see the bridge from where he was standing and he was meters away from a pay phone. He had realized only seconds ago that he had left his cell phone in his room again. He sighed as he thought about chaining the damn thing to his waist when he got back home. So annoying, having to walk around the entire country trying to find a pay phone to use.
He walked up to the phone and quickly dialed NSA.
"National Security Agency. How may I help you?"
"It's Conundrum," He said. He waited patiently as she immediately transferred his call to Bradley's office.
Bradley was sitting at his desk arguing with Nathan over the cost of hiring a few extra security guards for the night shifts. Bradley was only too happy to have the message come through that Frank was on the phone.
He clicked on the speakerphone. "Go ahead Frank."
"Hey, Bradley. Listen, I gotta be quick. The panel only left us a one day window to fix things. A group of anarchists led by Darrel McLaughlin planted a whole bunch of dynamite on the bottom of a bridge. I'm standing about a kilometer away from it. Anyway, the whole thing went boom and the middle collapsed. Killed about 760 people, including some French diplomat and some senators."
Bradley nodded. "Alright. Do you need back up?"
Frank thought it over. "No, don't bother. I'll go looking for Darrel, clock him and take the dynamite. Don't bother making Donovan fly all the way over here just for that. Besides, there's no time." Frank looked at his watch. "Yup, in six hours, that bridge is going to blow."
Bradley nodded again. "Okay, Frank. Good luck. And if you need back up, you give me a call."
"Sounds good. Thanks, Bradley."
Frank hung up the phone and started walking down towards the bridge.
Once he got there, he stared around, wondering where Darrel could possibly be. If he were a crazy anarchist about to blow up a bridge, where would he hide until it was time to light the fuse?
Frank grinned. Right next to the dynamite of course, safe guarding it.
He walked onto the bridge, then jumped over the railing, landing on the bank of the strait the bridge stretched across. Quietly, Frank started walking towards the over-hang underneath the bridge. It was pretty dark under there. Fantastic place for a psycho anarchist to hide out.
Pulling his gun out of the holster by his waist, he crept up to the bridge.
Bradley sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes. Nate was driving him mad.
"I don't care how many psychos are running around Nevada at night, Nate. I will not stretch our budge so thin that we'll all have to eat soup for the next year just so you can have five extra security guards on night duty."
"Nate! If you don't let go of this, I will soon be a psycho. And if I do, you better hope I become one in the day time, because the night shift will not grow in any sort of way at any time in the next year."
Nathan opened his mouth again. Once more, Bradley was interrupted by the operator telling him there was a call for him on line 3. Bradley silently thanked the caller. Whoever it was.
He clicked on the speakerphone.
"Bradley Talmadge here."
All that came through the phone were ragged sounds of somebody breathing short, quick breath.
"Dr.Talmadge?" a tearful, terrified voice came through the phone.
Bradley frowned. "Yes, I'm here."
"This is Molly." The voice choked out.
Bradley glanced up at Nathan, who shrugged, looking just as puzzled as him. Molly was an eighteen year old psychic who had previously helped the team during an emergency when the sphere had traveled back empty and nobody had any idea what the emergency was going to be.
Molly had done an amazing job, accurately detailing them what would happen and where, ultimately leading to Frank being able to prevent an enormous disaster.
Bradley frowned. Molly wouldn't be calling unless it was something important. And she wouldn't sound so upset.
"Molly, what's wrong?"
Her breathing was still painfully sharp and her voice was choked in tears. "It's about the bridge. The bridge that's going to blow up in a few hours."
"Yes, Molly. Frank's on it. Don't worry."
"No, no. It's not about the bridge. It's something else. Frank—he—he won't be able to stop it. He'll try, but he won't manage to stop it."
Bradley glanced up at Nate, his face shocked. "Why won't he be able to stop it?"
"I can't see exactly. It's too blurry. But he won't be able to stop the bridge from collapsing. Those people are all going to die." She wept, her voice terrified. "But not only are those people going to die. Frank will die too."
Bradley felt the blood drain from his face. "What?"
"Frank—Frank will die too. I'm sure of it." She sobbed. A terrified silence filled the room as neither Nathan or Bradley managed to find their voices.
"Frank will die in less than six hours."
Creeping along the bank, Frank quietly made his way underneath the bridge. Above him, he could hear cars driving by. He glanced around. It was really dark under here. He squinted through the darkness. He saw the curve of the wall on one side and by the sound of water trickling by. He guessed that the strait was right beside him.
He silently crept into the darkness, his gun by his side.
All of his senses peaked as he tried to hear something in the darkness or see something. All he heard was the water.
Where the hell was Darrel? Or the dynamite? He glanced over his shoulder, his eyes trying to pierce through the pitch black. The trickle of the water was right beside him. A bead of sweat slid down his face.
Suddenly, Frank heard the sound of boots crunching on the sand behind him. He whipped around, his gun in front of him, but before he could even see whoever was behind him, somebody slugged him over the back of the head with something very hard.
Frank crumbled onto the bank, unconscious.
The figure who had hit him crept forward and turned Frank over. Feeling his pulse, the person nodded. Taking a cell phone out of his pocket, he dialed a number.
"I got the guy. He's an agent."
He listened intently as the person on the other end told him that the truck was just beside the bridge.
"Right. I'll be up there with him in two seconds."
He listened again.
"No. He ain't dead, but he's gonna be out of it for some time. Yeah, don't worry. Plan can still go ahead on exact schedule." He glanced over at Frank who lay on the ground, breathing quietly.
"Yeah, he ain't gonna be moving for a while."
He hung up the phone and stuck it in his pocket. He grabbed Frank's arm and hoisted him onto his shoulders.
Moving quickly, yet silently, he made his way out from underneath the over hang and swiftly moved over to a truck which sat parked beside the bridge.
Opening the door, he threw Frank's limp body onto the back seat. He jumped into the passenger seat and slammed the door shut. Giving the driver a nod, the truck revved up and did a quick turn before speeding off down the street, away from the bridge.
The person in the passenger seat glanced back at him worriedly. He took out the cell phone and dialed a number again.
"Yeah, listen Darrell. The agent's coming around. I don't want him waking up in the car. I say, just dump him now and light the fuse at the same time." He listened to the arguments on the other end. "Yeah, I know we were gonna wait for a few more hours, but what if this guy comes around all of a sudden? There ain't no telling what he'll do. What? Oh, the senators? They're still in that meeting downtown. Yeah, I know we need them on the bridge when the thing blows, but—" He listened again. "Okay. Right. I'll go see what I can do."
Bradley was still staring at the phone, not knowing what to believe. Finally, he reached for his phone. "I'm calling in back up. I don't like this at all."
Nathan shifted uncomfortably. "Sir? Uhm, if I may say so, you aren't really going to take what she said seriously, are you?"
Bradley glanced up at him. "Why wouldn't I?"
"Well, sir. If I might point out, she did predict Parker's death before, and he came out without a scratch. She was wrong then, she could be wrong now. Besides, this is Parker we're talking about. The man's basically immortal. He's been in much worse than this and he always comes out in one piece. I don't see why now should be any different."
Bradley continued staring at him.
"Nate?" he asked quietly.
Bradley stared at him.
"I want you to do me two favors."
"Whatever you want, Bradley."
"First of all, you're going to keep this little phone call to yourself. I don't want the rest of the team knowing about it and worrying about it." He continued looking at him, an odd look in his eyes. "And secondly, for the next six hours Nate, I want you to repeat these words to yourself over and over again."
"What words?" Nathan asked, thoroughly puzzled.
"Frank Parker is a man. No more and no less than you or I."
Nathan continued looking at him curiously, obviously not understanding. Mumbling a "Sure, Bradley," Under his breath, he turned and walked out of the office.
Outside, he shook his head and nearly laughed.
Parker die. He chuckled. Now that was a good one.
Bradley sat at his desk, staring at the telephone. He'd already tried Frank's cell but he'd left it in his room again. He gripped the arms of his chair. There was no way to get in touch with Frank. It was too late to send back up now. They wouldn't get there in time.
There was nothing he could do.
He glanced up at the ceiling. "May God be with you, Frank." He whispered.
Frank groaned again. Man, his head hurt. Today was definitely not his day. First a hang over, then a back step, and now some idiot clocks him over the head with god knows what. Totally not his day.
Suddenly, his senses woke up. He heard a car's engine and felt whatever he was lying on vibrate. His mind worked quickly. He was in a car, going somewhere. He had a hunch that whoever had clocked him was in the car too.
He carefully opened his eyes and glanced around. They were speeding down a road. Frank gritted his teeth. Damn. Damn. Damn, damn, damn.
He needed to get back to the bridge somehow. Crap. These goons would probably sped their plan up now that they had discovered that somebody was onto them.
He was about to swear but kept his mouth shut. The longer these idiots thought he was out of it, the better.
A phone rang. For a split second, Frank thought it was his and his heart leaped into his throat, but suddenly he remembered that he had left his at home.
The guy sitting in the passenger seat picked up the phone.
The guy turned around at looked at him. Frank quickly closed his eyes again and continued breathing quietly.
The guy turned back around and looked out of the window.
"Yup, he's still out of it. I told you I clocked him hard. Yeah, the senators are all taken care of. Told them the building had to be evacuated 'cause of a bomb threat. They all cleared out pretty fast. They should all be starting to head over the bridge just about now." He listened again. "Sounds good. Let her rip."
Frank squeezed his eyes shut. No. No, no! They couldn't blow up the bridge now. No way in hell! He had to get to that fuse.
One step at a time, Parker, he told himself. You gotta get out of the car first.
Slowly, he moved his hand down to where his gun was. He pulled it out and then moved his hand down again and slowly slipped the gun out of his ankle holster too.
In a flash, he sat up and held the guns to the two guy's temples. The driver swore out of surprise and veered off into the wrong lane. The other guy dropped his phone.
"Alright guys. Party time's over. Give me the guns and the phone." Frank said.
They hesitated and Frank pressed the guns harder into their heads. The driver stopped the car and slowly handed Frank his gun. The other guy slowly bent down and picked up his phone. When he sat up again, he tried to twist around and grab Frank's gun, but Frank slugged him over the head with the gun. The man slumped unconsciously against the window.
"That was pay back, buddy." Frank reached over and took the guy's gun.
"Alright." He nodded his head at the driver. "Get out of the car, come around and drag your pal out too." When the man hesitated, Frank raised an eyebrow. "I mean it."
Quickly, the driver yanked his door open and jumped out. He ran around the car and opened the passenger door and dragged the limp body of the other man out.
Frank jumped into the drivers seat, slammed the door shut and stepped on the gas, turning the car around so hard that it nearly flipped over.
He threw all four guns and the cell phone onto the passenger seat. In the distance, he could see the bridge. He gritted his teeth again and sped up.
He had to get there on time.
He raced along the road, swerving around cars in his way.
It seemed to take hours instead of the seconds he knew it really took for him to reach the bridge. He pulled over and jumped out of the car, the motor still running. Leaving the door hanging open, he tore off, running towards the over hang. As he ran, he quietly prayed for five extra minutes.
Five extra minutes, that's all he needed. Five minutes.
He reached the railing of the bridge and leapt over.
Suddenly, it seemed like the entire world exploded. An enormous explosion erupted from underneath the bridge and the ground started shaking violently. Frank was thrown onto the ground from the force.
He heard the crack of cement and poles behind him as small chunks of debris started raining down on him. He covered his head with his arms.
It seemed to take forever until the ground stopped shaking and the echoes of the explosion faded off.
Slowly, Frank got up. He was covered in dust and dirt from the ground and from the chunks of wood and metal which had rained down on him
Still breathing hard, he slowly turned around.
As he stared at the ruined wreckage of the bridge, he suddenly had an irresistible urge to laugh. Such déjà vu.
The same crumbled blocks of cement thrown all over the place and sinking into the water as he had seen in the photo. The twisted metal rods and sparking torn wires swinging back and forth. And the mass of twisted, mangled cars thrown all over the bridge. Car horns blared and people's screams filled the air. Frank could smell gasoline and oil leaking out of the crushed cars.
Suddenly, the shock wore off and Frank took off running towards the railing. He leapt over the railing which now was torn in half. The other piece of it lay on the ground, inches from where he had been lying.
Slowly, he started walking down the bridge. Already the wail of ambulances and police cruisers filled the air along with the blaring horns and the screams of people trapped in their cars.
Frank stared around in shock.
Some people had climbed out of their wrecked cars and were either standing around, staring in shock like Frank was, or they were already kneeling beside other cars which held some trapped people, trying to help them out.
Cars lay strewn everywhere. Some had collided with others, the metal having crushed together with such force that it was nearly impossible to distinguish where one car ended and another started. Some cars had flipped over and lay along the sidewalk of the bridge, or even lay on top of other cars. Smoke poured out of the wrecked remains as people's terrified screams and moans filled the air along with the incessant wailing of the ambulance and the blaring of car horns.
Ambulance paramedics were racing around, helping people towards the waiting ambulances. Frank stared at a woman and her husband as they were led away. The woman had a wide gash across her forehead and blood was pouring down her face. Her husband's nose had been smashed into pieces, as well as his jaw. His wife was crying hysterically, saying over and over again how his face had hit the steering wheel when they had gone flying.
Frank continued to stare. He had failed. Because of his own stupidity, carelessness, whatever. It didn't matter. He had been sent back to save all these people, and he had failed.
As the paramedic led the sobbing wife and her dazed husband past him, Frank found himself muttering over and over again: "I'm sorry."
The woman's husband glanced at him strangely, before continuing on, stepping over a cement pole which lay on the ground.
He had failed.
Frank leaned against the side of an over turned car and wiped the soot and grime off his face. As he drew his hand back, he saw that it was bloody.
Was it his blood or someone else's? He shrugged. It didn't matter. Nothing seemed to matter anymore.
How long had he been doing this? He tried to think. He didn't know. Oh well. That didn't matter either.
For what seemed like hours he had been weeding through wreckage. Digging through twisted chunks of metal, trying to see through the smoke and trying not to choke on the gasoline fumes, he dug around in the mangled mess trying to find a hand. Or a head. Or a foot. Anything which indicated that there was somebody here. Whenever he found somebody, he keep on digging until he was able to pull the person out. Most times, the person was so bloody, so completely broken that Frank couldn't even tell if the person was male or female. It didn't matter. At least it was another life saved. Frank would turn around and gently hand the person up to the ambulance paramedic standing above him. Turning back to the wreckage, his hands bloody, his clothes covered in soot and grime from the cars, his eyes stinging from the smoke, he plunged back into the mess, looking for somebody else.
When Frank was finally convinced that there was nobody else in 'his' little pile, he moved further towards the middle of the bridge, crawling over mangled cars and chunks of cement along the way.
Finally he reached the middle of the bridge. He was standing on an enormous pile of cars, half of which already lay submerged underneath the water. He blinked. No need to check those cars full of water. It was too late already.
Trying not to think about those people, he knelt down and started tearing at a car door. After several attempts, he managed to rip the door off. Immediately, he saw a woman lying inside. She was conscious, but barely. Her head was bleeding very badly and her leg was broken, lying wedged underneath the car seat.
She groaned and blinked when she saw Frank. "Save—save my—my children." She whispered, moaning in pain.
Frank gently leaned forward and took hold of her foot. "I think you're the one that needs saving first." He said. "Now, grit your teeth. This is gonna hurt, but only for a second." He grabbed her foot and unwedged it. She gasped from the pain and nearly screamed but bit down hard on her lip. Frank saw a trickle of blood running down from her lip. He reached in and gently took the woman in his arms. She was crying silently from the pain. He picked her up in his arms and carefully made his way over to the waiting paramedic. Just before he handed her over, she grabbed his coat sleeve. He looked down at her. Her eyes were fevered and wild looking from pain.
"Save my children. I'm begging you. Please. Save my children." She whispered. Frank nodded.
"Don't worry. I'll go grab them now. They'll be fine." He reassured her as he handed her over to the paramedic.
Turning around, he went back over to the gaping hole which used to be the door. Kneeling down, he peered inside and saw two little children huddled in the backseat. One of them was bleeding on her arm, but the other one appeared to be unharmed.
Frank coughed from the smoke. "Hey there, guys. I'll get you out in a second, just hold on." He grabbed hold of the back seat and managed to pull it forward enough to reach the first child. He gently picked him up and quickly made his way over to the paramedic again. The child was shaking in his arms. Frank looked down. Shock probably.
"Here." Frank said, slipping off his coat and wrapping him in it. The child gave him a small smile. Frank picked him up again and handed him over to the paramedic.
Turning around, he started back to the car.
Bradley slowly switched on the television. The news had reached them only minutes ago. Molly had been right. Frank hadn't been able to stop the bridge from collapsing. The panel was furious and demanded that Bradley reach Frank immediately, but the panel was the furthest thing from Bradley's mind at the moment. He first had to make sure Frank would be alright.
The rest of the team sat around the table, tensely watching the screen as images of the bridge came on screen. Olga gasped. My god, it looked awful. The crumbled bridge, the mangled cars, the people furtively scrambling over the wrecked remains. The sirens and blinking lights of the ambulances and the smoke pouring everywhere.
Everybody stared at the screen in shock. What in the world had happened to Frank to have made him not be able to stop this?
Craig frowned. The panel would have Frank's head over this. Where was he anyway?
Suddenly, as the reporter started commenting over the enormous number of people who were volunteeringly and tirelessly shifting through the wreckage in search of survivors, the screen was replaced by the image of a man walking across a pile of cars, carrying a small child in his arms.
Olga gasped again. The man was covered in blood, soot and dirt, but they could all tell it was Frank.
"My god, it's Frank." Craig exclaimed, staring at the screen.
Nathan glanced over at Bradley, a smirk on his face. There was the man who was supposed to be dead by now. He shook his head. Just like Bradley to believe the word of an eighteen year old nutcase. She had been wrong again. Parker was right there, walking around on his own two legs no deader than he himself was.
They all watched silently as they saw Frank take off his coat and wrap it around the small child, and then hand the child up to a paramedic who was waiting above him.
Slowly, they watched Frank inch back across the cars toward the car he had just come from.
Frank reached in and gently picked up another child and cradled her in his arms. Suddenly seized by a coughing fit from the smoke, Frank nevertheless covered the child's mouth with his hand and started pulling himself towards the paramedic again.
It happened right after Frank had handed the child up to the paramedic.
They all heard a loud snap as the wire hanging around a large cement pole tore in half. The pole had fallen onto the wire and had been hanging suspended, supported only by that one little thin wire. With a groan, the cement pole started slowly falling over.
And it was falling right where Frank was standing.
Olga's heart leapt into her throat.
They all saw his face as he looked up, and the fear flicker across it as he realized what was going on. Desperately, he tried to climb up to where the paramedic was still standing, who was screaming hysterically for Frank to get out of the way.
But he was too late. Gaining momentum as it fell, the pole slammed down onto the pile of cars, crushing the metal underneath it further into the water. Water splashed up everywhere and small pieces of metal went flying as the pole bobbed up and down slowly.
Olga was the first to start screaming. Everybody else was still staring at the screen, unable to completely understand what had happened.
Olga stared at the screen. It was as if somebody had turned off the lights in the entire room and the only thing she could see was that pole, bobbing up and down. Up and down. It didn't stop.
No. No. It couldn't be. Frank couldn't be under that. No. He couldn't be dead. No. He was Frank. He couldn't die.
She squeezed her eyes shut, forcing herself to accept the truth. Nobody could have survived being crushed by that pole. Frank was dead. Frank Parker was dead.
"No." she whispered. "No. No. No. No! No!" she realized she was screaming. Unable to stop, she continued screaming, completely unaware of all the people who were sitting around her, only seeing that pole bobbing up and down. She continued screaming insanely, half sobbing now.
She kept on screaming, sobbing with grief, before she suddenly felt a stinging slap across her face. Slowly, her entire world faded into darkness and she sank into unconsciousness, her screams dying in her throat.
Bradley sat at his desk, staring at his phone. How long he had been sitting like this, he had no idea. Just staring at the phone. Was he hoping somebody would call? He didn't really know. In a way he was. In a way he was still living in denial, refusing to accept the truth. He still prayed somewhere deep inside him that the phone would ring and he'd hear Frank's voice on the other end.
Saying that he was alright. Saying that he'd be home soon. Saying that he was alive.
Bradley fiddled around with the phone cord.
He knew Frank wouldn't call. Frank would never call again. Frank was dead.
He squeezed his eyes shut as pain welled up inside of him. The indescribable grief he felt inside. Frank was dead.
He viciously yanked the phone cord out of the phone. He didn't want to talk to anybody. He didn't even want to see anybody.
Frank was dead.
It had been three days since the bridge collapse. Three whole days. They had been the longest and most painful three days of Bradley Talmadge's life.
That first day had been the easiest. The day of the accident.
After Craig had silently carried Olga's limp form out of he office, Bradley had immediately set to work. He ordered Nate to send in back up right away to see if there was a chance of saving Frank still. He even turned to Owsley and told him to phone every hospital in Washington and ask, beg, plead, even bribe if necessary to find out if Frank was there. He had to repeat his request three times. The young man was still staring at the screen, in numb shock.
But finally, he had slowly nodded his head and walked out of the office, his face pale with shock, disbelief and horror.
But it was all in vain.
The back up team arrived at the scene, but it took them five hours to lift up the pole. By that time, it was impossible to distinguish the mangled flesh from the mangled metal. It was hopeless. Even the hospitals had been a lost cause. Flooded with hundreds of injured people, the nurses and doctors weren't at the point of caring who they were treating as long as they were treating them. Owsley tried to nail it into their heads that Frank was a federal agent and that he had his badge on him, but the doctors brushed him off, running off to attend another mass of ambulances that had arrived.
Only hours later did Bradley realize that Frank hadn't had his badge on him. He remembered seeing Frank put his coat over that little boy he had saved. His badge was with him. Wherever that small boy might be.
Craig had insisted that he be allowed to join the back up team, but Bradley had refused to let him go. Even if they would be able to find whatever remained of Frank, Bradley didn't want Frank's best friend to see him like that.
By evening, Bradley called off all rescue attempts. It was hopeless. He summoned the team into his office, and quite bluntly told them that they would have to accept the truth, no matter how much it hurt.
Frank Parker was dead. And there was nothing they could do about it.
Right away, Olga and Craig had pounced on him, wanting to do a back step. But Bradley had silently shook his head. He knew, and he knew that they knew too that the panel would never do another back step at this time. They had already done a back step to prevent the bridge collapse once. And it had failed. There was no way they would consider doing another one.
In addition, as the casualty lists started appearing the next day, it turned out that with the help of the volunteers as well as Frank, hundreds of people had been saved. Included in those saved lives had been nearly all the senators and the French diplomat and his family.
The panel no longer considered the accident a national emergency.
Bradley knew that no matter what he did, he wouldn't be able to change their minds.
The pain and the grief only started seeping in the next day. Bradley had wanted to turn a blind eye to it, to ignore it. But he knew he couldn't. He refused to torment himself by believing that Frank was still alive. That he would walk through the office doors, grinning from ear to ear and making some smart ass remarks about something. That Bradley would pick up the phone one day and hear Frank's voice on the other end. That Bradley would sit down at a team meeting and have all the chairs around the table filled again.
Bradley sighed. No. Frank was dead. He was never coming back. He might as well start accepting it now.
The rest of the team was dealing with his death too. All in their own way.
Andrew had completely withdrawn into himself. Not talking to anybody. Not acknowledging if anybody said something to him. He walked around in a daze, his face pale and drawn. Once, Bradley had passed by him as the young man walked numbly down the hall. Bradley slowed down and tried to talk to him, but the boy just continued staring at the hallway in front of him. When Bradley was about to give up and turn around, Andrew looked at him, his eyes filled with confusion.
"I don't get it. Why do people have to die? It isn't fair. Frank wasn't done living yet. He wasn't finished yet. He shouldn't have died. It isn't fair." He had whispered, half to himself.
Bradley had just stared at him before continuing down the hallway.
He wanted to offer some words of comfort, but he knew that no matter what he said, it wouldn't be able to penetrate that wall of disbelief and confusion the young man had built around himself.
Nathan was a wreck too. The entire day of the accident, Nate had refused to accept what had happened. He never said it, but Bradley could see it by his eyes. The determination that glinted within those eyes. The determination to not have to accept the pain and the grief. But the day the casualty lists arrived and Frank's name had been on it, Nathan had at first refused to believe it.
"Must be a mistake." He smiled, tossing the long list of miniscule names back onto the table.
Bradley didn't look at him. "It's no mistake Nate. They had to use dental records to determine if the body was Frank's or not, it was so badly crushed. But these things don't lie, Nate. Frank is dead."
Nate had stared at him, the determination in his eyes slowly fading away and being replaced by shock.
Without a word, Nate had turned around and left. Since then, Nate had thrown himself into his work with such vigor that Bradley was surprised the man could still stand. He hardly slept, running around and doing anything that needed doing. Even washing floors at three o'clock in the morning if necessary. But there was nothing that Bradley could say that would make him stop. He was desperately fighting against the pain and the grief which threatened to crush him if he'd ever stop for a moment and think about what had happened.
Craig was the only one who appeared to be normal. His loyalties to Bradley and the NSA refused to let him ignore his work, and he still continued to work everyday, talking to people as if nothing were the matter, even laughing a few times.
But when he was by himself Craig wouldn't be able to keep the pain buried. He'd sit for hours in Frank's quarters, staring around at his best friend's belongings. He never cried. He never allowed himself to. He knew how many people depended on his strength. He couldn't let them down. But he'd still sit there, staring around Frank's room, not saying a word. Nobody ever interrupted him when he was like this. Even if they did, Craig wouldn't hear them calling him. He'd be lost in his thoughts, remembering the countless memories he and his best friend had shared over their long years of friendship. Only once had Craig gotten up and quietly opened the book case refrigerator beside the chair he was sitting on. He had found two cans of beer in there, quietly sitting there. Craig blinked. He remembered how Frank had deliberately set them aside so they would have something to drink later on. "One for me and one for my best friend. No better way to share the last two cans of beer a guy has, eh?" Frank had said, laughing.
Craig felt a stab of pain welling up within him. Clenching his jaw, he slammed the door shut and collapsed onto the chair, forcing his tears away.
Olga tried doing the same thing at first, pretending that everything was alright in the day time, and letting her grief clutch at her at night time. But she wasn't strong enough.
The immense pain that stabbed at her every minute of the day was too strong for her to cover up with a smile. She was angry with herself for her weakness. She remembered the countless times she had fallen apart like this over tiny things. She had always called herself the weak coward she knew she was, but Frank had always been very quick to brush it off and tell her how strong she was. But now, there was nobody to tell her how strong she was. Nobody. Because Frank was dead.
She found herself slowly falling apart, grief eating away at her soul. She no longer cared over how she looked, wearing wrinkled and dark clothes everyday, and hardly brushing her hair anymore. She started drinking too. At night, when she'd lie there by herself, staring into the darkness, all of her memories of Frank would come flooding back. That smile, those sarcastic infuriating comments, the gentleness, the understanding, the compassion. They would all come back to her and the pain she'd feel was so enormous that she found herself crying out.
He would never come back. Never again would he come back. He was dead. Frank was dead.
Then the tears would come. She'd start sobbing, wailing with grief, sinking down on the floor of her room, crying for hours. The tears seemed endless.
She knew everybody around her could hear her, but she didn't care. The pain was too much for her to bear in silence. She'd continue crying, bitter tears of grief coursing down her face. Frank was dead.
Then she'd always drag herself into her kitchen and grab the vodka bottle. She didn't use glasses anymore. She'd just take the bottle and start gulping huge mouthfuls of the liquid. As she drank, she'd remember the many times Frank and her had drunk together. He and his infuriatingly disgusting beer and her with her vodka. How they had laughed together. She squeezed her eyes shut, new tears streaming down her face.
She covered her face with her hands, sobbing into the darkness of her room. Reaching out a shaking hand, she grabbed the bottle again.
Isaac was the only one of the team who recovered almost immediately. He had seen too much death in his life already to think that dwelling on it solved anything. He shut himself up in his room for an entire day, silently remembering and saying goodbye to the man whom Isaac had cared for like a son.
After his own grief healed and the pain of losing Frank slowly faded away, Isaac concentrated on making sure the rest of his friends were going to be alright. He started with Andrew. The young man was still dragging himself around, dazed confusion written all over his shocked face.
Isaac pushed and prodded him until he finally convinced him to get back to work. He piled on mountains of paperwork for the boy to work through, and slowly, Isaac managed to push him past his confusion and shock, until the grief set in.
Isaac had just come into their little office to bring Andrew another pile of data to decode, when he saw the young man's eyes. There was no more confusion, no more disbelief. Only pain.
With a sob, Andrew dropped his pencil and buried his head in his arms, sobbing.
Quietly, Isaac turned and left the office, carrying the pile of papers with him.
Bradley had shut himself into his office, isolating himself from the world. He knew that it wasn't healthy, and he knew that one didn't handle death like this, but this time, this death was different.
This wasn't just one of his old schoolmates who had died of cancer.
This was Frank Parker.
Bradley took a deep shaky breath, staring around at his dark office. The disconnected phone cord still dangled off the side of his desk.
The pain which was eating away inside of him was unbearable. Frank was dead.
A single tear slid down Bradley's face.
"Oh, god." He whispered.
How could Frank be dead? After a life filled with so much pain, why did Frank's life had to end so suddenly, so soon?
He drew in another shaky breath.
Oh, god, how he had loved that man. Frank had been like a son to him. Over the years of knowing him, Bradley had grown to love him like a son.
A quiet knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.
He considered not answering, hoping the person would go away. But then he realized that nobody would bother him except for if it were really important.
He cleared his throat and wiped the tears off his cheek. He still had a job to do.
"Come in." he said, hoping his voice sounded stronger than it really was.
The door quietly opened and a person came in. It was Olga.
Bradley silently looked at her. The poor woman had fallen apart. Her clothes were wrinkled and dark, a far cry from the professional suits she normally wore. Her hair was hanging in limp strands around her pale, drawn face. Her eyes were blood shot. From crying or from drinking, Bradley didn't know.
He slowly got up.
Olga quietly shut the door behind her and walked up to his desk. A crumbled tissue was clenched in her hand.
"Sir, I, uhm, I didn't know if you wanted to be disturbed, so if I am interrupting anything, please tell me, and I'll come back later." She mumbled, staring at the ground.
Bradley came around the desk and quietly took her arm. He lead her over to the couch which was beside the window of the office. She silently sat down.
Neither of them said anything for a moment, trying to bring themselves together enough to be able to have a conversation without breaking down completely.
Bradley wondered vaguely if he should make some remark about the weather. He dismissed the thought. It didn't take a fool to know why Olga was here.
He cleared his throat. She had been drinking again. He could smell the vodka. She had tried to cover it up with mouthwash, but over the years of having Frank try to hide his own drinking,
Bradley knew all the tricks in the book.
Bradley glanced at her. "The funeral is in three days. In Washington."
Olga nodded. They had purposefully put a little delay between the accident and Frank's funeral. Letting the people of Washington mourn their own dead first. Out of respect.
Olga twisted the torn tissue in her hand.
"Sir, I came to discuss something with you." She took a deep breath. Please don't start crying now, she pleaded with herself. Be strong. "To discuss my future here at NNL."
Bradley nodded, waiting for her to go on.
She stared at the tissue in her hands. "I have decided to resign. After the funeral. I will be leaving immediately, if it is alright with you." She cleared her throat. "I have received many other job opportunities elsewhere in America. Minor things such as research, lab work, things like that. Nothing major, but good job positions."
Bradley nodded. In the silence which followed, Bradley asked the question which he already knew that answer to, but asked anyway.
She didn't met his eyes. "Sir, I know that after the funeral, the panel will be continuing the program as if nothing happened. But in order to continue the program, you will obviously need a new chrononaut."
Bradley raised his eyebrows. "What about Craig?"
"He has also decided to resign. He wants to go home for a while, think things through. He wants to leave the military life. I'm not sure what he will want to do, but he knows he wants to leave the military." She glanced at up him. "As you undoubtly know, Frank was his partner in the SEALS for years. Craig doesn't think he can do this anymore without—without—" she bit her lip. She couldn't even say it. Coward.
She tried again. "To continue what I was saying earlier, I know that you will be needing another chrononaut. And sir, I just don't think that I could—that I could—" she stopped again, took a deep breath and finished her sentence. "I don't think I could stand there in the control center, calling out the damn percentage of the reactor meter, then look up at the screen, say engage, and not have Frank's face there, but some strangers. And I couldn't come into your office for meetings, sit down and have some other man sitting in Frank's chair. I couldn't do it sir. In addition sir, I know that because of this, I would only succeed in making the new chrononaut feel alienated and not wanted here. I think that would just be unfair. The whole situation would be unfair for him and for me."
Bradley nodded, staring at the carpet underneath his feet.
"Yes, I've been thinking the same thing. I still don't see how I'm going to do it. I mean, this isn't the first time one of our chrononauts has died. There were twelve before Frank. But now…" his voice trailed off. "I should be used to it by now, but I still sink into this shock every time. Especially now. I don't remember this immense pain and grief coming with the others." He took a shaky breath. "We all let ourselves get too attached to him."
Olga nodded, tears welling up in her eyes. "I had never allowed myself to get too attached to all the others, but Frank was different. He always came back. After three years, he always came back. I always found myself forgetting how dangerous it is. I took it for granted that he would always come back."
"We all did, Olga. In our own way. We all took it for granted that he would always come back. We all made the mistake of getting to close to him, but Frank was—he was—"
"Different." She put in quietly.
Bradley nodded. "You know, I was so angry with myself when I found out how close to my heart I let him get. I loved that man like a son."
Olga looked up at him, tears streaming down her face. "Do you think he knew, Bradley?"
"Knew how much I loved him."
Bradley looked at her and nodded. "Of course he did. It was what made Frank so different from everybody else. The way he could understand everybody without them having to say a word. Of course he knew."
Olga closed her eyes. "It might seem strange, Bradley, but I really think Frank was one of the greatest men I have ever met in my life." She took a shaky breath, tears running down her face through her closed eyelids. "On the outside, he was just an immature brat, a constant troublemaker, he was the crazy nutcase SEAL from Hansen Island. But on the inside, he was different. He was so understanding and so compassionate. So gentle."
Bradley stared across his office at the chair where Frank had sat so many times.
"Yes, he really was one of the greatest men I had ever met in my life. And ever will meet in my life." He said quietly.
A sob escaped Olga's lips. "Oh, god." She sobbed, clutching the tissue to her lips.
Bradley swallowed and tried to keep his tears at bay, but he couldn't. Quietly, he put his arms around Olga. They sat on the couch, embracing each other, tears of grief coursing down their faces.
"I miss him so much." Olga sobbed into Bradley's shoulder. Bradley just nodded, tears running down his face. "Me too." He whispered, squeezing his eyes shut. "Me too."
Craig slowly made his way down to the front desk. He rubbed his eyes. He hadn't gotten a lot of sleep last night.
After digging around in some of Frank's stuff, Craig had discovered a scrap book which Frank had made. It was full of pictures and other scraps of stuff which Frank had salvaged together over the years. It was full of things from their friendship.
Pictures of birthday parties, poker games, sitting at bars, in the SEAL bunkers, in the back of an army truck, playing football together. The pictures went on and on. And the little stuff Frank had glued in there. Craig shook his head. It was amazing. The amount of junk that man had kept. Their old SEAL badges were in there. Old birthday cards. Scraps of paper with phone numbers of old friends and girls they had met at bars. Stubs of football tickets for the Superbowl which Craig had bought Frank as a birthday present a few years ago. Frank had been so surprised, the guy had almost started crying. Craig rubbed his eyes again, pushing down the pain which threatened to engulf him. He to stay strong for a little while longer.
He sauntered up to the front desk and gave the secretary a small smile. She looked up.
"Good morning, Captain Donovan."
"Good morning, Nancy. Hey, listen, somebody paged me and said there was a package that came for me. From Washington."
"Oh, yes. That." She turned around and rummaged around underneath the desk before pulling up a large, bulky brown package. "It came yesterday. It isn't official, probably a late birthday present or something." She said, handing it to him.
"Thanks." Craig smiled, taking the package.
He went and sat down on a bench close to the front desk. He looked at the package curiously. It had his name on it and NNL's address. There was no return address on it. He frowned. Who the hell would know NNL's address other than big important people who wrote letters to Bradley?
He tore it open. Inside lay a small piece of paper and a large plastic bag with something wrapped inside.
Craig unfolded the piece of paper and quietly read it.
Dear Captain Craig Donovan,
I am very aware of the fact that you have no idea who I am, but I will explain myself. My name is Dana Jennings and I was one of the fortunate survivors in the bridge accident last week. My car was crushed in the mangle of the hundreds of cars which slammed into each other when the bridge collapsed. I was stuck in my car, my leg broken and my head bleeding, with my two young children, Laura and Nicholas in the backseat. I thought for sure I was going to die, but then a man saved my life. He not only brought me out to safety, but also rescued my two children. Upon removing my son from the wreckage, he found my son was shaking from shock, so the young man wrapped his coat around Nicholas.
I didn't even know the name of our rescuer, the name of the angel who had saved our lives until a few days later. What was more shocking to discover that this man, Agent Frank Parker had been a federal agent and had saved our lives, was that he died after sacrificing his life for ours. Upon going through the coat which my son had on him, I came upon a small photograph. On it, were two people, one of whom I recognized to be Mr.Parker, and the other, upon reading the inscription on the back, I discovered to be you. I know that you must be grieving horribly right now, having lost such a wonderful person. I too find myself grieving over his death, although I only saw him for minutes before his life ended. I decided to send this coat back to you. I thought that you might like to keep it. In the coat you will find Mr.Parker's badge and the picture which I had described.
I am so sorry for your loss, and I feel your pain. My children and I will forever remember the angel who sacrificed his life for ours.
Craig stared at the note. Nicholas must have been that small child he had seen Frank carrying in his arms to the paramedic. And Laura must have been the girl he had saved moments before he had died.
Craig slowly opened up the plastic bag and took out Frank's leather jacket. He gently rubbed his fingers across the worn fabric.
How many times everybody had bugged him to buy himself a new jacket, but Frank had always refused. He said this jacket had kept him in one piece this long and that it would continue doing so for a few more years.
Craig clutched the fabric. He bend his head down and smelt it. It smelled vaguely of dirt and smoke, but underneath it, Craig could smell Frank's aftershave and the faint smell of beer too.
Craig stared at the jacket in his hands.
Frank would never wear it again. He would never come back. Frank was dead.
The pain welled up in his chest and tears flowed down his face as he started sobbing.
He clutched the jacket to his chest and collapsing onto the hard floor, his eyes squeezed shut as he sobbed.
He continued crying, wailing with grief, not caring who heard him or who saw him.
"Frank!" he cried out, sobbing, the pain unbearable. He clutched the jacket harder, nearly tearing the old fabric.
"Frank!" his pain filled cry echoed through the hallway as Craig knelt on the ground, sobbing.
Bradley quietly looked around at the rest of his friends. They were sitting around a conference table in the White House in Washington. The funeral was in a few hours.
It had been a hassle deciding where to bury Frank. The only place Frank had every really called home was at the base, but there wasn't a cemetery anywhere close to NNL.
Finally, the problem had been solved when the president had unexpectantly called Bradley. After asking Bradley if they had found a place to bury Frank, the president asked Bradley if it would be alright for Frank to be buried in the cemetery by the White House. Bradley thought he had heard wrong. The White House? But the president had quite shamelessly admitted that a man such as Frank Parker deserved to be buried by the White House. After everything the man had done over the years, risking his life over and over again for the sake of his country and for the entire world, Frank had more right than anybody to be laid to rest among all the other great men of the country. Bradley had been astounded and had right away gone to ask the team if that would have been alright with Frank. They all agreed right away that it was the best place to lay Frank to rest. He deserved to be there.
The entire flight to Washington had been silent. Craig staring at the floor, his eyes filled with pain. Olga sobbing quietly. Andrew swallowing hard, trying to keep his own tears in check. Isaac quietly handing Olga tissues and stroking her back from time to time. Nathan was sitting there with a clipboard on his lap, checking and rechecking every tiny detail of the funeral.
Bradley was staring out of the window. He didn't know how he was going to be able to say good bye. Forever. He glanced at Nate. He smiled bitterly. Nate still hadn't accepted Frank's death. Bradley felt so sorry for him at that moment. In a few hours, Nathan wouldn't have a choice about it anymore. He suddenly had this irresistible urge to rip the clipboard out of his hands and yell at him until Nate stopped living in this world cloaked in denial, but he let it go. Let the man live a normal, pain free life until it wasn't possible anymore.
Bradley sighed. Nobody was saying anything. Nate had tried to cheer everybody up by pointing out something stupid about the chairs they were sitting on, but this was only greeted by vague stares, forced faint smiles or nothing.
There was a quiet knock on the door.
Bradley cleared his throat. "Come in."
The door opened and President Maxwell walked in. Nathan immediately stood up and shook the presidents hand. The president didn't seem to notice Nathan at all as he tonelessly shook his hand, his eyes meanwhile sweeping over the other people in the room who hadn't even noticed his presence.
Bradley looked at the president. His face was also drawn and pale looking. Bradley knew that the president had cared for Frank. Although there had been a slight incident with Frank and his daughter Dee-Dee, Frank had selflessly saved the presidents life many times over the past three years.
The president knew as everybody in that room did that he owed his life to Frank.
The president cleared his throat. "I was talking to the coordinator of the funeral a few minutes ago, when it occurred to me that we might want to have two funerals. I think we are the only people in the world to know it, but Frank really lived two different lives. One life which the public can know about, and the other which they can't know about."
Bradley nodded. It made sense.
The room was silent for a moment, before the silence was shattered by Olga's grief strained voice. "No." she whispered, her voice shaking but still strong.
Bradley blinked. It was the first time she had said anything in hours.
Craig too, looked up. His eyes were tired and filled with grief, but his voice was steady. "Bradley, Frank might have lead two lives, but he was one person. We're not burying his lives, we're burying Frank. We don't have to mention anything about his other life. We don't have to mention back step, NNL or the whole mess. But that doesn't mean we won't be remembering the many things he did in that second life. We don't have to say anything out loud. It's enough if we show him how grateful we are in our thoughts."
Bradley turned to the president. "Mr. President, I'm afraid I'll have to agree with Captain Donovan. We want to have one funeral. Don't worry, we're used to saying and thinking two entirely different things. We've gotten in lots of practice over the years."
The president slowly walked to the window and stared outside at the enormous lawn which stretched around the entire White House where the funeral preparations were being made. He could see the cemetery in the distance, the large wrought iron gate glittering in the sunlight. The president cleared his throat. He still couldn't quite get used to the fact that never again would that cocky agent suddenly surface in his life and save his life again. He still couldn't imagine not seeing him again. He shook his head.
"Alright. We'll have one funeral. I'll go inform the—" abruptly, he stopped talking, staring out of the window.
Bradley stood up, frowning. "Mr. President?"
The president was still staring out of the window, his mouth open in shock. "Dr. Talmadge? Might I ask you to step over to window for a moment and look outside. I think it's just my imagination."
Bradley stepped around the table and stared out. Suddenly, he gasped, his eyes widening.
"Holy mother of Jesus!" he breathed.
Nathan jumped up and stared out of the window as well. "My god!" he cried.
Slowly, the rest of the team walked over to the window and stared out. The sight which met their eyes was amazing.
The entire lawn was covered in people. Asides from the small section where chairs had been set up for Frank's close friends and the small podium up in the front, the entire lawn was covered with people.
Hundreds of people were quietly walking around the lawn. All of them were dressed in somber dark colors and none of them were saying a sound. When they noticed that the funeral hadn't started yet, they sat down on the ground, quietly waiting. More and more people came, sitting down in the small spaces they could find. Even more came and they had to sit on the sidewalk, then on the road.
Olga stared. She had never seen so many people before in her life. The sea of people continued coming. All dressed in black, some carrying small flowers in their hands, they silently walked until they couldn't keep on going because of the mass of people sitting on the ground. Then these people sat down too, quietly waiting.
And still more kept on coming.
The funeral went by in a blur for Craig. He didn't pay attention to a word everybody was saying. During the entire funeral, Craig stared at a picture of Frank they had put beside the coffin.
He stared at it, memorizing it. The twinkle in his eyes, his short cropped hair, the dimple in his cheeks.
He refused to say good bye to his best friend in front of all these people. None of the team found themselves strong enough to do it. Craig knew that all of them, just like him, were planning to come down to the cemetery later on that night to say good bye alone.
Craig glanced around at the other people sitting around him.
He saw Frank's ex-wife, Patricia, sitting there. She was sobbing, grief spilling out of her over the man she had once loved. Or still loved. She knew that deep within her heart, a piece of her would always belong to Frank. No matter what happened, he would always be within her heart. Jimmy sat next to her, his face filled with pain. He had lost his father. Never again would his dad come home to him. He'd never see him again. Tears started pouring down his face as he stared at the coffin. He hadn't even had the chance to say good bye. Jimmy tried to remember the last time that he had told his dad that he loved him. He couldn't remember. Biting his lip and regret welling up inside of him, Jimmy stared at the coffin.
"I love you, dad. I always will." He whispered.
Mike Clary sat on the other side of Jimmy, trying to think of something to say which would make this pain easier for his wife and step son. He stared at the coffin. Although he had never been close to Frank, he had felt his presence everyday. Not only was it painfully obvious every time he looked at Jimmy, but he knew that deep in her heart, Patricia had never really stopped loving Frank. Part of her would always belong to him. Mike bit his lip, staring at the picture of the man whose life he had replaced. No. Not replaced. Mike could never replace Frank in Jimmy and Patricia's hearts. Never. Mike always wanted to find the anger within him to hate Frank, but he couldn't do it. Mike remembered that Frank had saved his life too once, long ago. He continued looking at the coffin, grief filling him.
Craig saw a lot of other people whom he recognized. The nuns from Frank's Catholic school were here, sitting in a somber line, crying quietly. Craig still had difficulty imagining Frank in a school uniform for 12 years. He shook his head. The man had spent his entire life in a uniform. First a school uniform, then a military uniform. And lastly, the chrononaut uniform. Father Kelly was there too. He had said a few words about Frank, bringing to light a rebellious, angry little boy whom he had raised for years and come to love like a son. He talked about how, after getting to know Frank, he had shockingly discovered that deep within that angry soul lay the kindest heart he had ever seen. Craig stared at the man, wondering if he had any idea how many of his teachings Frank had carried on with him throughout his life. Frank wouldn't have been alive these past few years if he hadn't had Father Kelly.
As Craig looked around, he was shocked to see Svetlana sitting there too. He raised his eyebrows, impressed. The girl had flown all the way from Russia to say good bye to Frank.
Frank had really been an extraordinary man. Craig sighed. And he would never see him again. He squeezed his eyes shut, pain welling up within him. Slowly, he forced his eyes open and continued to look at the people around him. It was always easier to keep the pain hidden when there was something to do.
Craig's parents were there too. They had come in a little late, having given Patricia's parents a ride too. They sat it the back, his mother quietly sobbing. Craig knew that she had loved Frank nearly as much as she had loved him.
He glanced over at Patricia's parents. Frank's ex in-laws. Man, how they had hated Frank. From the very beginning, they had despised him. Whether it was his attitude, his clothes or his drinking, they'd hated him. But deep down, like everyone who said they hated Frank Parker, they found themselves strangely attached to him, and now that he was gone, they suddenly realized that there was a void within them. A void which was impossible to fill.
Craig smiled bitterly. Such irony. Frank would have had a good laugh over that one.
The president and Dee-Dee were sitting there too. Craig squinted. Yes, beside President Maxwell sat Grace Wyman, Frank's psychiatrist. She hadn't said anything during the service. The president had said a few things, but had broken down in the middle of thanking Frank for saving his life so many times, never thinking of his own. Dee-Dee hadn't said a word either.
Bradley was the last to speak. Clearing his throat, he stood up and walked to the podium.
Before he began, his eyes quickly glanced over the rest of his team, making sure they were all still alright. He then looked down at the coffin next to him, and Frank's picture. Nobody said a word, all of their eyes quietly looking at Frank's picture.
"I only had the chance to meet Frank a few years ago. We were looking for an agent, whom our agency could use to prevent many of the disasters which our country is threatened with everyday. When Craig first suggested Frank, I thought he was mad. I mean, all one needs to do is look at Frank's record. A rebellious, cocky ex-CIA agent who had spent two years of his life in a mental institution. He was known as being a violent, hot tempered man who spat in authorities face as many times as he could. The only reason we took him is because we discovered he had a wonderful photographic memory, which came in very handy at times. My first impression of Frank, that of a rude, immature, cocky bastard is the impression which I am certain many of you had of him when you first met him. But through the years, I got to glimpse the Frank which lay underneath the cocky, bad tempered exterior. I saw a Frank whom not many people in the world had known, or tried to get to know. I saw that Frank not only had the kindest heart I had ever seen in another human being, but he was also the most compassionate, most caring man I had ever met in my life. He was one of those rare people who could understand what somebody else was thinking or feeling, without them having to say a word. He was also loyal and trustworthy. He would never turn his back on his friends, or on his responsibilities, no matter how hard it was to keep them." Bradley swallowed, tears brimming his eyes.
"Frank Parker was an extraordinary man. I think that laying him to rest here, among the nations greatest leaders, is the most appropriate place for Frank to rest. Frank Parker was different from every other man I had ever met in my life, and probably ever will meet, and no matter how long I live, I will never forget him, or the many sacrifices he made for this country, and his friends, purely out of the love and kindness he carried in his heart."
After the funeral, the team had silently walked back into the White House. They walked back to the room with the conference table and quietly sat down.
They sat like this, not saying a word for a long time. They didn't need to say anything. The grief and the pain which they all felt surrounded them. There was no need to say anything.
The door silently opened and the president came into the room. His eyes were still filled with sadness, but there was something else in his eyes, something which none of them could read.
He quietly walked over to the television set sitting beside the table and turned it on. The six o'clock news was on.
Olga closed her eyes. She didn't want to watch the news now. She didn't want to know about another disaster which they had to prevent. Because they couldn't prevent it now. Frank was gone.
She opened her eyes again when she felt somebody shaking her arm. She looked up. Craig was staring at the screen, his eyes filled with amazement. Silently, Craig pointed at the screen.
Olga turned around and stared at the screen where an amazing sight met her eyes.
The hundreds of people who had gathered on the lawn of the White House before the funeral hadn't left yet.
Silently, they lined up in a straight line and started slowly walking towards the cemetery where Frank's coffin had been buried only an hour ago.
Olga watched as these people dressed in their black clothes, clutching flowers in their hands, walked up to the grave and bend down and silently place their flowers on it. They didn't say a word, just turned around and left. Then the next person came, knelt down and whispered something before gently putting down her flower, then turning and leaving.
And so it went. The line was endless. The hundreds of people who had patiently waited, sitting on the lawn and on the street, were now quietly lining up to say good bye to Frank. Olga looked at the corner of the street from where she saw hundreds of more people coming.
It was starting to get dark, but none of these people showed any intentions of leaving until they had said their final good bye's. The White House staff were silently passing out candles and lighting them.
The sight was beautiful. Hundreds of people, silently walking around the lawn and up to Frank's grave, candles softly burning in their hands and a flower clutched in their hands.
As more people turned from Frank's grave and left, more people arrived.
Suddenly, the reporter's voice came on, tearing apart the silence which enveloped these hundreds of grieving people.
"The entire nation seems to have gone into mourning after the death of a NSA federal agent named Frank B. Parker. Just three weeks ago after the disastrous bridge collapse in Washington, D.C., Mr. Parker was among the hundreds of volunteers who selflessly volunteered their help and their hearts as they dug through heaps of rubble, trying to find and save as many people's lives as possible. After saving the life of 28 year old Dana Jennings and her two young children, Mr. Parker was crushed to death by a falling cement pole, after sacrificing his life in order to save Mrs. Jennings and her two children. Although the city has been devasted by the enormous losses suffered during the accident, this grief was most strongly portrayed today, when hundreds of mourners showed up at Mr. Parker's funeral to say good bye. Never before has an entire city gone into mourning over a man who was considered by many to be just a simple agent, never mind an entire nation. The hundreds of people gathered here today to say good bye to Frank Parker come from all over the world and are all different ages and from different social classes. Never before has there been such an enormous turnout of different people, ranging from the president himself to street workers, and ranging from 2 month old infants to 90 year old grandparents. Upon talking to a few of the mourners, it was discovered that nearly none of them knew each other and had never before seen the other people gathered here. The only common thread which these people all share is that at one point or another, Frank Parker had quite suddenly appeared in their lives and saved them. Whether it was preventing a young mother from jumping off a building and committing suicide, or hurling himself onto a senator as an assassins bullets rained over his head, Frank Parker had in some way or another saved all these people's lives."
The image on the screen flickered and was replaced by a picture of a middle aged looking man who wore a torn over coat and was standing beside a black woman with wild hair who was wrapped in layers of torn blankets.
Craig gasped as he recognized the man. It was Johnny who had been in the SEALS with him and Frank. He vaguely recognized the woman beside him to be Lucy. Frank had mentioned her name a few times, and had even flown down to New Orleans a couple of times to spend time with both of them.
"Frank was a good, good man. He saved Johnny's life. He did. He saved Johnny's life. Never asked for nothing in return. He saved Johnny. He wasn't just an ordinary guy like he said he was, he was one of them great spirits. No, more than a spirit. He was an angle. Pure and simple. Frank was an angle." The woman was saying, tears in her eyes.
The image was replaced by President Maxwell standing amid the people with his daughter hanging onto his arm.
"I owe my life to Frank Parker. Whether he saved me by running madly around the country and stopping a crazed terrorist from bombing the White House and not only killing me, but my entire family and staff, or whether he saved me from making a diplomatic mistake which would jeopardize this country, Frank had always been willing to risk his life to save mine."
Dee-Dee looked tearfully at the camera. "Frank saved my life too. Not only did he physically save me from falling off a balcony and breaking my neck, without even a thought to his own safety, and he did nearly fall off with me, but Frank saved me in another way too. He was the only one who understood me. Without me having to say a word, he'd know what I needed. Whether it was a hug, a kind word, or hurling vodka bottles at a wall, screaming in rage, Frank knew what I needed. I guess it was from all the pain he had to suffer through in his life. He just understood people."
The image was again replaced by a picture of a small child who was clutching the hand of an older, middle aged, black man. Olga immediately recognized the child as being Taylor, the telekinetic child Frank and her had saved just about a year ago. Holding his hand was his doctor, Reginald Carter.
Taylor stared into the camera, biting his lower lip in an effort not to cry.
"I only knew Frank for about a day. Just like the rest of these people. He just suddenly showed up, completely out of the blue, and not only saved my life cause some idiot CIA agent wanted to shoot me, but Frank was one of the first people to ever really accept me. He taught me that it was okay to be different from the rest of the world. I guess he just understood stuff better than everyone else did. He was different too, he told me. I always thought that he meant he was different in a bad way. But now I really understand what he meant. Frank was different. Really different. He just understood people."
The image changed back to the hundreds of mourners still quietly walking around the lawn and up to Frank's grave, clutching flowers and candles in their hands. It was so dark outside that they could hardly see the people walking, only the soft light of their candles gently moving around.
Olga found herself crying.
Oh, Frank! If you could only see this! She stared at the screen. Frank had been alone for so long in his life. Orphaned when he was only a little child, he had spent his entire childhood alone. That was where the anger had come from. And the pain, which he had worked so hard to hide.
But now, now he had a family. People who loved him. Not only the group of people sitting around Olga right there, but all of those people walking outside, saying good bye to Frank. They were saying good bye because they cared about him. They all cared.
She smiled through her tears. Now, in death, Frank was not alone. He had hundreds of people by his side. Hundreds of people who loved him.
If only you could see this, Frank. See how many people care about you.
Bradley was staring at the screen.
My, God! If Frank could only see this. The man had had no idea how many people had cared about him. How many lives he had touched over the years.
A gentle knock came on the door. A woman came in and gently slid a copy of that day's newspaper onto the desk.
Bradley picked it up. On the front, the headline read: Agent's death throws nation into mourning.
Below it was a large picture of Frank's coffin and his picture beside it. Bradley turned the page. There was a picture of Bradley talking at Frank's funeral. And there was one of Jimmy, Patricia and Mike. There was another one of the entire team sitting in silence. But the pictures didn't end there. For the next five pages, there were just pictures. Pictures of the hundreds of people who had shown up for Frank's funeral. There was President Maxwell and his daughter. There was Johnny Madelaina and that woman who had been standing beside him. Lucy or something or other, if Bradley remembered correctly. There were the nuns from Frank's old Catholic school, and Father Kelly talking to the other mourners. There was even that English girl. What was her name? Oh, yes. Raven. Or Danielle. There was a picture of Grace Wyman, standing in front of Frank's grave and gently putting her flower down. There was a picture of Olga, clutching Isaac's arm as she walked away from the grave. Then Craig kneeling by the grave as Andrew and Nate sadly stared at the headstone. There was Taylor, still holding onto Dr.Carter's hand. There were a group of Navy SEALS standing beside the grave, their postures rigid, but their jaws all clenched in order to hide their grief. Behind them stood other ranks of officers. One of them was Major Garcia from that Wyoming military base. His eyes were sad and filled with grief as he stood behind the Navy SEALS. Frank had saved his life too. Not in a physical way, but Frank had stopped him from making the biggest mistake of his life which would have probably resulted in World War 3 starting. He had tried to ignore Frank, locking him up in one of the back rooms. But Frank had been insistent. Standing there beside the nuke which he was about to deploy, Frank had just casually stood there and quietly talked to him, completely ignoring the huge ruckus going on around him as the seconds ticked away. Frank had refused to allow the Major to make the biggest mistake of his life, even if it would cost him his own life.
Bradley smiled as he saw General Masterson among the ranks of officers as well. Frank had been the most difficult soldier the man had ever encountered. It had taken the general years, but after grinding out his cocky attitude, which hadn't been accomplished without hours of disciplinary measures, Frank had turned out to be one of the most levelheaded, loyal and bravest soldiers the man had ever met in his life. Bradley saw another picture where Olga was hugging another woman who looked startlingly similar to her. He smiled when he recognized Svetlana. Out of all the possible people to show up at Frank's funeral, she had been the last on his list. But she was still there. Just like so many other people who despised Frank Parker, she had become attached to him in her hate. He chuckled. Just like Frank's ex in-laws. Even people who hated him had secretly loved him.
There was another picture in there of Craig's parents quietly sitting at the funeral, with Patricia's parents sitting beside them. As Bradley turned the page and saw a picture of a young man with brown hair who was sadly staring at the grave in front of him, he was shocked to discover it was Walter. Of course. The nuns must have brought him with them from Frank's old orphanage. Walter had gotten so attached to Frank too. Just like with Taylor, Frank had accepted Walter without question, despite the fact that Walter was so different from everyone else. It was exactly as Taylor had said, Frank had really been different. He had always understood and accepted everybody, no matter who they were. Bradley took a shaky breath and turned the page, his eyes skimming down the page, looking for people he recognized.
There was a picture of Molly. Bradley saw her sitting on the ground with some other mourners, softly crying. She had been right. Bradley blinked. The last picture was of Dana Jennings and her two children whom Frank had sacrificed his life for.
Bradley quietly folded up the newspaper and put it into his jacket.
He looked up at the rest of the team. He had had enough of this. Had enough of his entire world being cloaked in pain. Had enough of seeing all his friends being torn apart by grief. Had enough of this pain, this constant grief.
"Okay, everybody. Let's go," He said quietly, his eyes still staring at the screen where the hundreds of mourners still walked silently up to Frank's grave.
Craig looked up. "Where are we going?"
Bradley smiled sadly, determination in his eyes. "We're going to the panel. I'm afraid we have a national emergency on our hands."
Bradley quietly muttered a prayer under his breath as he glanced up at the dark cloaks of the panel officials sitting behind the long bar in the dimmed room.
He had taken the entire team with him, but he had insisted he go into the room himself. If any of them broke down in front of the panel, it wouldn't help their case.
But they had all insisted that they come in with him. They had all looked up at him, fierce determination glinting in their eyes as soon as he had told them of his decision to go alone. Bradley had known better than to argue.
He quickly glanced over his shoulder at the rest of his team standing behind him. They were all looking up at the officials, their eyes silently praying.
Bradley had just issued their request to back step and to undo the bridge collapse.
It had been greeted with a shocked silence. Bradley swallowed. That wasn't a good sign.
Finally, one of the officials found her voice.
"Dr.Talmadge, we have already done a back step for that particular incident, and it failed. Miserably, if I might add. Can you guarantee us that Mr.Parker will succeed, if we try again?"
Bradley opened his mouth to reply, but before he got a word out, the official continued.
Obviously, the question's answer was too clear for anyone to want to hear it.
"Besides, do you realize Dr.Talmadge, that the accident occurred nearly three weeks ago? I am sure you can do the math. That requires three back steps. Three consecutive back steps, as well as three enormous wastes of precious back step fuel."
Bradley cringed. This was hopeless. Why had he bothered to even come here and give everybody some failed hope? Why had he bothered to give himself some failed hope?
Suddenly, Andrew piped up from behind him.
Bradley nearly fell over. It had been the first time the boy had spoken in days.
"Ma'am, if I might interrupt? Dr. Mentnor and I had been doing some experiments with the fuel just before—before—before the accident. We had managed to raise the fuel's half life by 0.3."
Bradley felt a glimmer of hope go through him. The panel would love that.
But they didn't. Instead, a stony silence followed. None of them said anything to Andrew's announcement. Bradley closed his eyes. They were more upset than he had thought they would be. Usually they greeted news about the extension of the fuel's usage with compliments and praise. Now was not the case.
The official who had said something only moments ago, spoke again.
Bradley vaguely recognized her voice to be Martha's. Martha was the worst of the lot. The woman had a heart of stone.
"I am not particularly concerned about the fuel. What I am more concerned about is the motivation behind the request of a back step at this time. Is it the bridge collapse you want to undo, Dr. Talmadge, or is it Mr. Parker's death? I somehow doubt it is as much the former as it is the latter."
Bradley cringed again. She had pounced on their weak spot. He considered lying for a moment, but he knew they'd see through it in a moment.
He sighed. "In answer to the choice you gave me, I'd have to say that, yes, I do want to undo Frank Parker's death more than I want to undo the bridge collapse." He admitted quietly, knowing that they had all just dug themselves their graves. Or rather, he had dug all of theirs for them.
Another stony silence followed.
Finally Martha spoke up.
"So, Dr. Talmadge, you would want us to agree to a request which involves using up enormous amounts of back step fuel, all for the sake of saving one single man's life? I'm very surprised at you, Doctor. Over all these years, you had always been the first one to insist that back step be only used in the most dire of national emergencies. This situation is neither dire, nor a national emergency."
"But it is a national emergency." Olga spoke up from behind Bradley. Before Bradley could stop her, she had stepped up beside him and started speaking.
She stood straight and tall, tears brimming her eyes, but her voice remained strong the entire she spoke.
"Ma'am, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of people outside, all mourning for Frank. Entire Washington is flooded by mourners, some who have even come from half way across the world. They've all come just so they could say good bye to Frank. Every single news cast on television is reporting it and every newspaper in the entire country has it written on its front page."
When the room remained silent, Olga decided to try again. Taking a deep breath and closing her eyes for a moment, she started again.
"Every single one of those mourners outside knew Frank. Maybe not very well. Some only knew him for a few hours, some maybe his whole life, but it didn't matter, because no matter how shortly they knew him, he somehow managed to change their lives. By a single word, a single action, anything, he managed to change their lives. When he got sent on his missions, he didn't only take care of the mission. He took care of the people who were part of that mission. No matter how dangerous the situation was for him, he still threw himself into it head first, if he thought that he could somehow save somebody's life by doing that. None of the other chrononauts we've had were willing to do that. For them, if they accomplished the mission, they considered their work done. Whether they had to kill some innocent people on the side, whether they had to thrown somebody else's feelings out the window, it didn't matter, because the mission got done. But Frank didn't do that. He didn't only put his head into every mission, he put his heart into them as well. And I know that sometimes, he got out of line. Sometimes, he'd do other things on the side which would have nothing to do with the mission, but that was how Frank was. Take Johnny Madelaina for instance. Mr. Madelaina was going to be executed for a crime he didn't even commit, and Frank refused to stand by and just let it happen. Even if he lied to all of you, even if he broke every rule in the book, he still fought for him. For all of them. Frank knew the responsibility you were all giving him by making him the chrononaut. It was not only up to him to make sure the important people in this country stayed alive, but that every single person whom Frank could possibly help, he felt obligated to help. Maybe it was because nobody ever looked out for or took care of him, or even talked to him when he was younger, maybe it was because he couldn't stand to be the one person in this country to be able to help these people and to not do it, but whatever the hell his reasons were, he still helped them." Olga took a shaky breath, forcing her tears down.
"You will never be able to find another chrononaut like Frank Parker, because there is nobody else in this world who could do what he did. Nobody else would be willing to not only risk their lives, but their hearts every time they back step. Nobody else, except for Frank Parker."
Olga stopped talking and looked up at the officials, pleading them with her eyes. When nobody responded, she stepped back behind Bradley.
Bradley was staring at the officials, quietly praying. If that hadn't convinced them, then he'd have to admit defeat.
Martha cleared her throat.
"The panel will consider this recent speech and report their final decision in five minutes."
Bradley automatically turned and quietly lead the team out of the room.
Silently, they all followed, not daring to make a sound.
Five minutes later, they were standing in front of the bar again. Craig was chewing on his bottom lip, forcing down an irresistible desire to run up there and shake all the officials until they all agreed for the back step.
Please, please, please, Craig silently pleaded. I need Frank back. We all do.
Martha cleared her throat. Craig found himself being able to recognize her voice through the darkness. He had always despised the woman, but right now, if she would let them have Frank back, he would willingly do anything she ever wanted for the rest of his life.
Please, please, please.
"We have considered all the recent events which had occurred in the past three weeks, and considering the current public opinion of Mr. Parker's death and the state of the entire back step team, we have all decided to agree to your request, Dr. Talmadge, to allow three consecutive back steps to allow not only the Washington accident to be undone, but for Frank Parker to be with us again."
Craig let out a long breath, which he realized he had been holding for the past few minutes. He felt like somebody had lifted a huge weight off his entire body. He could actually breath easier. He could hardly believe his ears. They were allowing them to bring Frank back? They were allowing them to bring Frank back?
"However, after these back steps, if the events which occurred in Washington are repeated and the NSA is unable to stop the bridge from collapsing, every one of the people standing in front of me will be relieved of their duties and an entire new back step team will be put together, including a new chrononaut. We've had enough of all these failures. It's hard enough putting up with Frank Parker being the man we trust with our very lives everyday, but having a miserable and untrustworthy back step team whose motivations are questionable and who are incapable of performing their duties properly, will be replaced immediately."
Craig hardly heard the last part of her speech. He found himself grinning from ear to ear. He realized it had been the first time he had smiled for weeks. Frank was coming back. Damn it! Frank was coming back! He was going to have his best friend back! He found himself filled with such happiness he felt he could fly from here to NNL.
As soon as they got back to NNL, Bradley wasted no time getting to work. The sooner he'd have that cocky, grinning bastard sitting in front of him in his office, Bradley yelling at him for some stupid thing he'd done, the better.
The entire team seemed to have woken up somehow on the flight back to Nevada.
Olga had actually started smiling and had peeked into a mirror to fix her hair a little bit before stepping off the plane. It had been the most wonderful sight Bradley had ever seen. Craig was smiling and spontaneously laughing for no reason, grinning around at nobody in particular. Andrew seemed to have revived himself, his eyes shining and happily chatting to Isaac, who had a relieved smile on his face as he gazed around at the happy team. Nathan was also grinning, sitting there and laughing at something Craig had said. How often that man had pretended to hate Frank! Bradley chuckled. Nathan was so happy he was nearly floating. Bradley was silently thankful that Nathan wouldn't remember any of this. If Nathan would have known how close he had let Frank Parker get to him, Nathan would do his best to shun Frank for the rest of his life. Bradley wanted to avoid a scene like that at all costs.
That was why he was going to have to do something which he hadn't informed any of his colleagues of yet. Something even the panel wouldn't know about. Something which only he, Bradley Talmadge knew at that moment. He glanced around at his laughing friends.
And for now, it better stay that way.
"Okay, listen up closely everyone, I want to back step in about an hour, but in order to accomplish that, we all have to run around like our tails are on fire in order to get everything ready." Bradley said, shuffling around some papers on his desk which he hadn't bothered to clean up before leaving for Washington. "Andrew?"
"I want you to prepare three batches of the fuel. By batches I don't only mean the physical quantities, but I mean that they should all be flight ready. In order to do the back steps completely consecutively, we'll need to have enough ready fuel. We don't have time to wait until the fuel regenerates itself properly."
Andrew nodded, already heading out the door. "On my way, sir."
Bradley nodded. One down. A zillion to go.
"Olga and Isaac? I want both of you down by the control center, checking and rechecking all of our systems to ensure that everything is in good enough condition to not screw us over on these back steps. I want no extra energy lapses, I want no overheated controls, I want no monkey business whatsoever. No surprises. All the systems must be in tip top shape."
After a firm nod from both of them, they disappeared out the door, already yelling for some assistants to come and help them.
Bradley looked at his Chief of Security. The man looked positively radiant.
"I want to you go and alert everyone about the multiple back steps. Anybody who might possibly be effected by them, from the assistant scientists all the way to the janitor who scrubs the floor I am standing on. Also, I want a complete systems check done on the sphere to ensure it won't fall apart during one of the back steps. I want everything perfect. No busted pipes, no rattling door, no nothing. Even rips in the piloting chair should be sewn back up. Make sure to tell everybody to be ready to go in about an hour."
Nathan nodded and started walking out of the room. However, as soon as he was out the door, he started running, yelling for his men to come and help him alert the entire staff. Bradley saw him tearing down the corridor, briefly skidding to a stop by the front desk, telling the secretary to tell everybody about the back step. Hardly having come to a complete stop, he was off again, running like a mad man down the hall. People leapt out of his way, staring after him in wonder.
Bradley smiled. Poor Nate. The entire staff must be thinking he had completely lost it in Washington. Too bad Nathan wouldn't be able to remember this. No, on second thought, it was probably better he wouldn't. Nate wouldn't be able to look these people in the face again if he remembered the lunatic way he was acting now.
Craig was the only one standing in the room with him now.
Bradley glanced up at him, toying with some papers on his desk. Now was the time to tell him about the essential part of this which would never be allowed to reach the panel's ears. That is, if any of them valued their own necks.
He cleared his throat. "Uhm, Craig?"
"Should I go suit up?" Craig asked, already moving towards the door.
Bradley glanced at him. "Uhm, no. You shouldn't."
Craig raised an eyebrow. "Uh, sir? We kinda need a chrononaut to pilot the sphere."
"I know. But that's the point. Listen, Craig. I know how much you've been looking forward to flying, but I've been thinking about this all the way home from the panel. Whoever is in that sphere will be there on the other side of the timeline. That person will not only remember all this, but will remember Frank's death. I don't want anybody to remember. Not because I'm selfish and don't want to be reminded of the pain, but simply because that one person would treat Frank differently for the rest of his life, and Frank would hate that. That one person would probably hate it too. And besides, there's not much chance that the chrononaut will be able to stay quiet over the events which caused him to treat Frank so differently, and I don't want the rest of the team to have to go through that pain all over again." He looked up at Craig who was staring at the floor. "Do you understand my point, Craig?"
Craig nodded. "I think so sir. Quite frankly, if the circumstances were any different, I'd be feeling pretty pissed at not being allowed to fly, but considering that I'd remember this aching pain for the rest of my life, and that I probably would treat Frank differently for the rest of our lives, I'd rather sacrifice one little spin in Lulu than have to look at Frank with my heart tearing apart everyday."
Bradley smiled. "Thank you, Craig. I knew you would understand."
Craig gave him a smile and turned to leave.
"Craig?" Bradley called after him. The captain stopped walking and half turned around.
"Has Frank ever told you how lucky he was to have you as a best friend?"
Craig smiled. "He never needed to sir. Just like I never had to tell him how darn lucky I was—am—to have him as a best friend."
Craig started walking again, but then stopped once more, suddenly laughing.
Bradley looked up, staring at Craig as he laughed harder and harder, doubling over.
"Craig? Are you alright?"
"Yeah. Just fine." Craig managed to choke out, laughing. Finally, he wiped his eyes and took a deep breath, still chuckling.
"Do you know what I find so ironic over this entire situation, sir?"
"The fact that I'm the replacement pilot, right? I'm supposed to fly if the regular chrononaut can't. The reasons can vary, but the biggest one is if the regular chrononaut is dead. Then, no questions about it, but I'd would be the only flying. But now, even when Frank's dead, I'm not gonna fly. Even when he's dead, I'm not gonna fly. Man, what a replacement I am." Craig laughed, shaking his head and heading out the door.
Bradley was left staring after the closed door, trying to keep the inappropriate smile off his own face.
After he had cleaned up his desk a little bit, making up for the neglect it had been put through in the past three weeks, Bradley sat down heavily.
Soon, this entire nightmare would be over.
He had called Andrew, Olga and Isaac already, and they had all reassured him that they would be ready in twenty minutes.
Bradley sat there, toying with the phone cord he had in his hands. He had already reconnected it. The secretary had poked her head into his office a few minutes ago, complaining that she was sick and tired of telling people he was too busy to talk to them, when in fact, she couldn't put the calls through because his phone wasn't connected. Bradley had sighed but had plugged the phone back in. The peace and quiet had been so nice.
As he sat there, he suddenly noticed a small bulge in his jacket. Puzzled, he opened his jacket and to his surprise, found the newspaper from Frank's funeral in there.
He pulled it out and stared at the headline again.
Suddenly, he remembered what he had thought about while staring at the hundreds of mourners by Frank's grave.
Frank would never know how many people truly care about him. He'd never know how many lives he had really touched over the years. He would never know that he wasn't alone anymore. Bradley tapped on his desk, quietly in thought.
How could he somehow smuggle this newspaper back through the timeline, without a chrononaut holding onto it, but without any of the other team members seeing it?
Everything would be ruined if it would suddenly appear three weeks earlier and the entire team would see it. It would wreck everything.
Bradley shook his head. But somehow, they had to bring the message of the bridge accident back with the empty sphere too. After all, if they didn't do anything about that, then the entire back step would have been in vain.
He continued tapping on his desk, lost in thought, until he suddenly got an idea.
Smiling, he reached into his desk for an envelope. Grabbing a pen, he started writing on the front of it.
After he was done, he stuffed the newspaper into it and taped it shut securely. Next, he grabbed a white piece of paper and quickly scribbled a small message onto it. Finally, he put the cap back onto his pen and put it down.
Still smiling, he got up and headed off towards the control center, the envelope and the paper in his hands.
When he arrived, he found a bustle of activity down by the hangar. Assistants, cleaners, scientists, guards, and various people he didn't even recognize were running around everywhere, hurriedly preparing for the back step.
He walked up to the sphere. As an assistant ran by him, Bradley reached out and stopped the man.
"Yes, sir?" The man asked, looking at him, a clipboard in his hand.
Bradley handed him the envelope and a white piece of paper. "Could you put these two things into the sphere for me? The chrononaut will be along shortly, but with all the things he has to carry, it would just be easier for these two things to go into the sphere right away."
The assistant nodded and took the envelope and paper.
He frowned, completely puzzled when he read the paper.
2 more back steps after this one.
(cross out the two and put one after this back step is done)
Go as quickly as possible. Use second fuel batch which is in sphere.
Note to self: Turn this paper over after final back step
The man was about to turn the paper over, but Bradley stopped him. "We don't have time right now. You'll understand soon enough."
The assistant stared at Bradley blankly.
"May I ask sir?"
Bradley smiled. "It would take up a lot of time and effort for me to explain. You'll catch on as soon as we start."
Bradley turned and walked towards the control center, calling for Andrew to put the two extra batches of fuel into the sphere and to start firing her up.
In another ten minutes, everything was ready.
Bradley stood behind Olga, watching the empty piloting chair shaking back and forth.
"Reactor at seventy percent." Olga said. Andrew was pushing various buttons, from time to time glancing up at the empty chair.
"Bradley? How did Craig take the news?" he asked.
Bradley grinned. "He took it as I knew he would."
"Good. A pissed off captain is the last thing I need right now."
"Reactor at eighty percent. Bradley, won't people start noticing that we're not using a chrononaut?"
He shrugged in response. "If any of them start to wonder, we'll just do another back step. They won't have time to puzzle it out."
From behind him, Bradley could hear the count down start. He stared at the sphere's empty chair on the screen. He almost swore he could see Frank's face in it.
Bradley smiled at the sphere. Don't worry, Lulu. You'll have your chrononaut back in no time at all.
"Reactor at a hundred percent." Olga glanced up at the screen and nodded, purely out of habit. "Engage."
She was still staring at the screen, waiting for Frank to engage, when she suddenly realized she was talking to a chair.
She burst out laughing. "Engage, Hooter." She laughed.
Andrew grinned. "Finally realized you were talking to a chair, huh? Damn, I wish I could remember this from the other timeline. Olga Vukavitch talking to immovable objects." He laughed.
Olga smiled at him from behind her headset. "Shut up, Mr.Owsley and engage already."
(a week earlier)
Bradley was sitting in his darkened office, soberly thinking about when to arrange Frank's funeral and staring at his disconnected phone when the bell started chiming, indicating that a back step had just been done.
He leapt out of his chair and raced all the way down to the hangar.
When he had gotten there, the rest of his bedraggled, tired looking team were already there, staring at an empty sphere. Bradley looked at them. Grief had literally eaten all of their hearts away. They all tried to look interested when they all noticed that there was no pilot sitting there, but deep down, none of them could find the energy to really care. None of them felt like preventing any type of disaster which would tear the country apart. On second thought, that part had already been done. The country had already been torn apart. Any little disaster which would add to that would hardly matter.
Bradley was the only one who actually approached the sphere and glanced inside. When he noticed an envelope and a white piece of paper inside, he took them out. After reading what his former self in the other timeline had written on the envelope, he tossed it back onto the sphere's chair. Quickly, he skimmed over the paper.
He had to read it over a few times until he grasped the full meaning of the words.
He hurried down the metal stairs, running to his team.
"Bradley? What happened?" Nathan asked him as soon as he reached him.
"Another back step."
Nathan nodded, raising an eyebrow. "Evidently, sir. What I meant is what we do now?"
"Another back step, Nate."
Now both of his eyebrows shot up. "Another what?"
Olga suddenly stepped forward. "Another back step, sir?"
"Yes, Olga. Two apparently. One more after this one."
Olga's eyes suddenly shone. "My God, sir. Could this mean that the panel actually…"
Bradley nodded. "I don't think that this is what this could mean, I think this is what its supposed to mean." He turned to the rest of his team. "Andrew, you and Isaac go into the sphere and take out one of the batches of ready fuel which you'll find in there. Nate, you go and prepare the rest of the staff for another back step. Olga, go and check over the entire control center, making sure that everything is in tip top shape." He turned to Craig. "Craig, I think you better come with me. I have something to discuss with you."
As Bradley walked away, talking to Craig over his shoulder, he quietly took out a pen and crossed out the 2 on the paper.
Stopping and bending over a desk, Bradley wrote a 1 in it's place. As he was about to continue walking, he stopped and crossed out the s at the end of the words back steps.
He shrugged to himself. Might as well be grammatically correct.
(a week even earlier)
Bradley stared at the white piece of paper, noticing how his former self had crossed out the s at the end of the words back steps. He smiled. How considerate of himself.
He tossed it into the sphere and hurried down to the control center.
"Reactor at ninety percent." Olga said, staring up at the empty pilot chair.
Bradley stared at up at the screen too. Soon they'd all have Frank Parker back. That painful void within all their hearts would soon be gone.
He stared at the shaking sphere. Don't worry, Lulu. You'll have your chrononaut back in no time at all.
"Reactor at a hundred percent." Olga glanced up at the screen and nodded, purely out of habit. "Engage."
She was still staring at the screen, waiting for Frank to engage, when she suddenly realized she was talking to a chair.
She burst out laughing. "Engage, Hooter." She laughed.
Andrew grinned. "Finally realized you were talking to a chair, huh? Damn, I wish I could remember this from the other timeline. Olga Vukavitch talking to immovable objects." He laughed.
Olga smiled at him from behind her headset. "Shut up, Mr.Owsley and engage already."
(and a week even earlier than that)
Frank Parker was walking down the corridor, pretending to scowl at Craig, who was loudly proclaiming how much fun his night off had been.
"Man, you should have been there. Partying, drinking, laughing. Hottest chicks around. Enough booze to even make you pass out. It was great."
"Yeah, yeah." Frank said, grinning in spite of himself. "Would you ease off with the bragging. You're talking to a caged monkey here, remember?"
They both laughed when suddenly, the bell started chiming.
"What the hell?" Frank muttered.
Craig raised his eyebrows. "A back step? But you're here."
Frank looked at him. "Nice one, Sherlock. Very bright." Suddenly, he shook his head. "A back step, huh? But you're here."
"And so are you."
"So that leaves…"
Craig stared at him. In seconds, they both took off running towards the hangar.
As soon as they got there, they saw the rest of the team gathered around the empty sphere with Bradley standing in the middle, holding an envelope and a white piece of paper.
Frank skidded to a stop, gasping.
"What the hell is going on?"
Nathan glared at him. "You evidently missed your flight. That's what."
"Shut up, Ramsey." Frank said, not even looking at him.
Bradley was still reading the white piece of paper. Raising his eyebrows, he slowly turned it over. Frank could see a bunch of crossed out numbers and letters on the front of the paper. He frowned. What in the world was going on?
Suddenly, Bradley's face got very serious.
"Okay, everybody, we've got an enormous emergency on our hands."
"What is it?" Craig asked, still gasping.
"A bridge in Washington is going to blow up in less than six hours. An anarchist group, led by a Darrel McLaughlin, planted some dynamite on the bottom of the bridge and then lit the fuse, making the whole thing collapse."
Frank nodded. "I'm on my way, sir." He was about to turn around, when Bradley called him back.
"Frank, I understand about as much about this as you do, but the paper says that for some reason or another, you're not to go anywhere near that bridge. You are to stay here, confined to your quarters until the emergency has been dealt with. We are to send back up."
Nathan smirked. "So, the panel's finally put you under house arrest, huh? Screwed up one too many times for their taste, huh?"
Frank hardly heard Nathan's remark. He was staring at Bradley. "But sir—"
"But the back up is so much slower than me. I could have it done in ten minutes. I'd be back here within three hours—"
"Frank, although some people might like to think so, I doubt my former self is stupid. If I wrote on the paper that you are under house arrest, it means that you are under house arrest. It's just until this emergency has been dealt with. Then you're free to roam around the complex at will." Bradley gave Frank a smile. "Besides, I have something here that will keep you busy." He tossed him the envelope. "It says for only you to open it and for nobody else to know what's in it."
Frank caught the envelope and turned it over in his hands, frowning at the bulkiness.
"Aw, isn't that cute. The panel gave you something to play with while you're grounded." Nathan taunted.
"Shut up, Ramsey," Frank muttered, still staring at the envelope.
He turned around and slowly made his way to his quarters, oblivious to the havoc around him as Nathan called the back up team together.
He shut the door behind him and collapsed onto a chair. Turning the envelope around, he ripped it open and shook out the contents.
It was a newspaper.
He slowly smoothed it out, staring at the picture.
It was a picture of a coffin.
He frowned. Somebody obviously died. Big deal. Why couldn't he tell anyone else about this? People died everyday.
But suddenly, his breath caught in his throat as he saw another, smaller picture standing propped up beside the coffin.
It was a picture of himself.
His eyes widened and he found that he couldn't breath anymore.
He had died? He was dead? He was dead?! No, of course not, he wasn't dead, he was sitting in a chair, right here. So how could he be dead? But he was, no, no, no, he was going to be. Or he had been. But he was still here. But it had happened in the past. No, it was going to happen.
He slowly closed his eyes. These timelines always screwed his mind over.
He opened his eyes again and stared down at the headline, reading it for the first time.
Agent's Death Throws Nation Into Mourning
He blinked. His death had thrown the entire nation into mourning? He shook his head and skimmed through the article to make sure they were talking about him.
Yep, that was him. Federal agent Frank B. Parker.
Still not quite believing it, he collapsed into the chair and started reading about his death and his funeral.
As soon as he read about how he had died, Frank knew that it was no joke. He had really died. He blinked again and continued reading.
As he read over the sentence where the President was saying where they buried him, Frank had to re-read the sentence quite a few times. They had buried him by the White House? Frank Parker, cocky, rude, loud mouth troublemaker had been buried by the White House? Cool.
As he got to the pictures of the funeral, his mouth dropped open in surprise.
So many people. He couldn't remember ever seeing that many people in one place.
And he recognized every single one of them.
There was the team, and Donovan's parents, and Patricia, Jimmy and Mike. There were his former SEAL buddies, and General Masterson. And Johnny and Lucy. Even President Maxwell and Dee-Dee. And Taylor. And Dr. Carter. Even Danielle. And Grace.
He continued leafing through the paper, tears silently falling down his face as he looked at the dozens of pictures of people he knew.
People whom he had hardly known. People whom he had maybe said one little word to. And they were all there, crying and saying good bye to him.
He gaped when he recognized Svetlana and Patricia's parents. They were all crying.
Even those who had hated him were there.
He tried to blink back his tears, but found he couldn't.
All of these people. All the people he seen over the years, all of these lives he had touched. He had made a true difference in all their lives.
He, Frank Parker, orphaned, angry loner, had made a difference in hundreds of peoples lives.
He had always thought he was alone in this world. That people who were his friends were only pretending to be close to him, to make him feel good. But no. There were hundreds of people out there who actually cared about him. People who had cried for him, and mourned over his death. He saw pictures of Olga, Nathan, Andrew and all the rest of them, crouching by his grave, crying. Even Nathan was crying.
He smiled. He wasn't alone. After so many years to living in the dark and living all alone, Frank realized that he had never really been alone. He had a family. A real one. Right here. And he had friends. Hundreds of them. Scattered all around the world.
He wasn't alone.
After Frank had finished leafing through the paper and had cried himself out, he got off the chair and flipped it over. Tearing open the bottom, he quietly moved over his little box of Olga things and placed the newspaper underneath the box. He carefully closed the chair again and flipped the chair back over.
Nobody could ever find out what was in that chair. And not just for his sake.
Frank was in Bradley's office when the back up team called in to report. Nathan was sitting on the corner of Bradley's desk, impatiently looking at his watch. Olga was sitting on one of the chairs, tapping her foot and Craig was marching around.
Frank was leaning against the wall, listening to the back up squad leader informing Bradley of their current position.
"What steps should we take if McLaughlin catches us before we've got the dynamite, sir?"
Bradley opened his mouth to answer, but Frank beat him to it.
"Sit him down and play a game of poker with him and share a beer or two. Winner gets the dynamite." He said, a grin on his face.
Olga rolled her eyes, Bradley glanced up at him, a faint smile of amusement on his face and Craig chuckled.
Nathan glared at him. "If they do, you'd better hope that the squad leader is a better poker player than you."
"How the hell do you know how I play poker?"
"Oh, maybe from the hundreds of adoring fans from various bars across the country who call nearly every night demanding their money from you."
"They do not."
Bradley sighed and looked at the two of them, interrupting his conversation with the squad leader.
"Would you two tone it down? I can't even hear myself think anymore. Sibling rivalry has nothing on you too," He mumbled in frustration.
Frank smiled in response. Like little brothers.
Bradley had no idea how close his words were to the truth.
Frank continued smiling, staring out of the window at the rest of NNL's complex.
Nope, Bradley had no idea.