THE SECOND TIME AROUND
SELMA's Log: These are the journals of Darien Lambert; Captain, Fugitive
Retrieval Section, AD 2193. My Captain had traveled to Virginia in pursuit
of a fugitive named Maximilian Lake, a thief and con-man wanted on several
charges of fraud, forgery, larceny and embezzlement in the 22nd Century.
Captain Lambert also suspects Lake in the 20th Century theft of a diamond
collection from the Jonathan Capperi estate.
Darien Lambert zipped his light jacket against the unexpected chill,
keeping an alert eye on the seedy warehouse on the near side of an old lot.
Long shadows cast by stacks of crates and a sagging fence merged with the
blackness of night, the darkness held off by a few weak floodlights
scattered throughout the property. It all looked eerie and uninviting, all
the more so since it was 1:00 A.M.
"SELMA, are you sure this is the place?" Darien whispered. From
somewhere inside the jacket, a distinctly feminine voice replied,
"Positive, Captain. This is the exact location we were given by your
~slang term~ 'snitch'." Darien shivered suddenly, wishing briefly that
he'd worn something warmer. Indian summer was giving way to fall in
Virginia, as unpredictable as the breeze that ruffled his hair. For an
instant, he thought about how good a warm bed was going to be after this
was over. But only for an instant; a movement so slight he might've
imagined it caught his peripheral vision and his attention was back to more
important matters. "Captain." SELMA's voice confirmed his suspicion.
"There are three people approaching from the south gate."
"Can you identify any of them? Is Lake with them?" Darien was
already moving, silently and quickly, using the various assortment of
shipping crates and vehicles to screen his passage. As, he was sure, the
other party was doing.
"I am sorry, Captain. I am unable to verify the identity of the
subjects. There is an intermittent signal interfering with my scan."
"Probably that conning tower." Darien glanced over to where the tall
airplane signal tower blinked its red beacon. "Keep trying." He was near
the spot where he'd first detected movement, and he proceeded cautiously.
It was dark enough here that he wouldn't be able to easily spot his targets
until he was right.....on top....of them.....
Wham! Something slammed into the side of his head, hard, and Darien
dropped to his knees with a sharp cry. Teenage voices and running feet
were all around him, and he lunged dizzily, trying to trip up one of his
assailants. But his fingers only brushed an ankle and he fell forward onto
his hands. Street kids. His hand touched something else, and he drew it
back. A small packet of marijuana was on the ground. He'd interrupted a
drug deal. But it was not these street kids that Lambert had come to find.
"Captain?" SELMA's voice had taken on a concerned tone. "Are you
"Yes, I'm all right." Darien answered immediately. But he didn't
move for a few moments, trying to recover from the force of the blow. It
hadn't been hard enough to knock him out, but was enough for him to "see
stars", so to speak. He sat back on his knees and reached up to gingerly
touch the spot where he'd been hit. Already a large lump was forming, and
when he drew back his fingers, there was a small bit of blood on them.
After that he slowly climbed to his feet, wondering if his shout had
alerted anyone else of his presence here. "SELMA, are you getting
"Yes, Captain. There is a single man approaching the warehouse. I
have detected an IDF card--it must be Maximilian Lake."
"Good work, SELMA." Darien, injury momentarily forgotten, was
already retracing his steps back toward the warehouse, again making the
most of the cover that was afforded him. This time he was much more
successful, coming within twenty feet of his subject. It was Max Lake all
right. Darien hunched behind a large tank and watched as the fugitive
thief opened a crate and placed a small box inside it. The diamonds,
Darien realized. That was enough. He reached into his pocket, retrieving
what appeared to be an ordinary car alarm. Only he and his quarry would
know it was anything different. Lambert stepped out confidently from his
hiding place. "Max!"
Lake whirled around sharply, startled half to death. On seeing
Darien, however, the man relaxed and even grinned.
"Daireeaan Laambert." Lake had picked up the local Southern accent.
"Ah must say, Ah've led ya'll on a pretty good chase. Don'tcha think?"
The thief regarded Darien a long moment, and suddenly it occured to the
police officer that this fugitive was actually asking for his approval. He
couldn't quite suppress a smile of his own.
"Max, just between you and me, it's been an excellent chase. But now
it's done and I'm going to send you back." Darien raised the 'car alarm'
and pressed the red button. A tiny pellet imbedded itself in the
fugitive's skin, releasing a chemical into his system. "Transmission tone,
SELMA." In a sudden flare of light, Max Lake disappeared.
"Well done, Captain." SELMA congratulated. "The diamonds may now be
returned to the Capperi Estate."
"Yes. Place a call to the desk officer at the local station.
Well....." Darien pocketed his unusual weapon. ".....at least in 2193 the
Capperi Diamonds will be located in the Smithsonian instead of some fortune-
hunter's bag." He stifled a yawn. "And in 1993, I'm going to get some
The story of the recovery of the Capperi diamonds by the local police
broke on the morning news on all the local stations. SELMA monitored the
transmissions silently, allowing Darien to sleep in peace. Having
satisfied herself that Lambert had not suffered a concussion as a result of
the previous hour's work, she had left her captain to his rest upon their
return at 3:00 A.M.
In fact, it was nearly 10:30 before Darien even stirred. He'd been
so exhausted that he hadn't even bothered to change out of his clothes or
to open the bedspread. He'd simply laid down and fallen asleep almost
instantly. The first thing he was aware of was a massive headache. What
did they hit me with, a sledgehammer?
"No, Captain. I believe it was a piece of PVC pipe." SELMA's voice
startled him into full awareness. He hadn't realized he'd spoken his
question aloud. With a small groan, he slowly sat up, rubbing his eyes.
"Visual mode, SELMA." Darien commanded. Instantly, the image of
SELMA--a Specified Encapsulated Limitless Memory Archive--flickered into
holographic life at the foot of the bed.
"The police are baffled by the lack of clues to the thief's identity
in the Capperi case. According to my records, the case was never closed."
SELMA reported. Darien got up and padded in his sock-feet for the
bathroom. (He had remembered to kick off his shoes before collapsing onto
"Place an ad in the Post, SELMA; they can close it now." The
holographic image glanced up, immediately responsive to her captain's
request. "After two hundred years, it's about time, I think."
Darien rumaged around in the medicine cabinet for the aspirin he'd
bought just a few days earlier. It was primitive, but at this point he'd
take it with good grace and a smile because his head felt like it was going
to fall right off his shoulders. He caught a glance of himself in the
mirror, with SELMA's image flickering just behind him. For a brief moment,
he felt the odd sensation of being out of place. Because, of course, he
was out of place. Two hundred years out of place, having come back in time
to find criminals from the 22nd century who had escaped here to the 20th
century, and to return them to the future. The image that gazed back at
him from the mirror was thoughtful. Serious eyes, dark hair. Nothing in
his outward appearance communicated that he was anything other than Darien
Lambert, U.S. citizen, with an average, everyday car alarm and a regular
Mastercard. (The clever idea of disguising SELMA as a 20th century credit
card had been a stroke of genius.) With each successive mission, he had
become more comfortable, fitting himself into the living history around
him, but every now and then, it would strike him afresh that this was not
home and that home was very.....far off.
"Captain Lambert?" SELMA prompted, shaking him out of his reverie.
Darien splashed water on his face and reached for the towel. A shower
would come later; breakfast first. SELMA's image "followed" him as he
wandered into the small kitchenette. "What were you thinking about? If
you don't mind my asking." Lambert rumaged around in the refrigerator,
pulling out eggs and orange juice. He paused a moment, glancing at the
hologram that flickered in front of him.
"Home." He finally answered, pulling out a frying pan.
"Just......thinking about people. Friends." Darien absently scrambled
eggs as he talked. "Guess I miss it a little bit, being around people I
know, places I enjoy."
"Perhaps I cannot fully understand the way you feel, Captain. Aside
from being unable to experience emotions, the only home I've ever known is
with you. And I've never been away long enough to 'miss' it." The
hologram took on a puzzled expression, as if truly curious. And, Darien
thought, in her own way, SELMA was curious. After all, she was a limitless
archive, even if she was disguised as a lowly credit card. He shook his
head slightly to himself as he dumped the scrambled eggs onto a plate and
turned off the stove.
"SELMA, I can't imagine having to live here without you." His remark
illicited a slight smile from the holograph, even though the compliment
would never bring an emotional response. "In any case, that's enough
sentimental daydreaming for now. Do you have anything for me today?"
Darien poured some of the juice into a small tumbler.
"Scanning." SELMA took on the appearance of a speed-reader, her eyes
moving rapidly as she gazed up and leftward. It was almost as if she was
reading a message off the ceiling tile above her, an oddity of programming
that had taken Darien some time to get used to when he'd first received
her. "Actually, Captain, there is nothing currently suggesting fugitive
activity at this time."
"Nothing? No 22nd century weapons have shown up in a robbery, or
anything like that?" Darien paused from his eggs long enough to regard the
"Nothing. Captain, may I make a suggestion?"
"Certainly." Lambert took another bite.
"This is an excellent opportunity for some recreational activity.
There's a place not far from here--"
"Recreational activity?" Darien finished his breakfast. "Any
particular reason for that idea?"
"Yes, there is. You have tracked eight fugitives in a five and a
half day period. As your well-being is of utmost concern to me, I believe
some relaxation would be in order. Of course, it is only a suggestion."
"Hmmm." Darien picked up his dishes and carried them back to the
kitchen sink. He glanced out of the small hotel window, and caught sight
of the high Virginia hills not far off. A memory flickered in his mind
like a summer breeze, and he smiled. "You know, SELMA, you just might be
right. I probably can use a day off.....I haven't gone hiking in a long
"I was about to suggest that very thing. Perhaps you did not realize
it, but we are only a few miles away from Mount Avar. Of course, it won't
be named that until the year 2023. In this era it is known as Davis Peak."
"Mount Avar?" Darien's eyes lit up. "I haven't been there since I
graduated from the Academy. Some of my classmates were from here, and we
came down on weekends a few times to go hiking or camping up on the
mountain. I thought the area looked familiar, but so much has changed in
two hundred years."
"The mountain hasn't. At least, not significantly."
"I'll take your word for it. You up for a walk in the woods?" He
grinned. SELMA returned the smile, and the matter was settled. Darien
Lambert would take a day off.
Ryan Jaron fidgeted in his booth at Mike's Diner, his big hands
tapping out his boredom on the tabletop. Living in Cogan Station was no
picnic for any teenager who dreamed of brushing the small-town dust off his
feet and finding the big time. It had been even harder for Ryan, being
shuttled around from foster home to foster home. He'd been labeled a "hard
case" and never seemed to stay anywhere very long. Ryan had become a
loner; quiet, self-sufficient, tough. He'd had no choice after being
dumped here in Cogan Station, abandoned at the age of 12. For awhile he'd
hoped to be reclaimed, but as the years had gone by, the hopes had faded,
and now as a young man at the age of 25, he thought of the place as home.
It hurt too much to remember the other place, the place where he'd been
before coming here.
The door swung open, and Ryan looked up, startled by the appearance
of anyone this late in the morning. The breakfast crowd had all gone to
work, and the lunch clientele wasn't due to start showing up for about
another hour. The man who'd entered the diner was dressed smartly in a
dark grey suit, and for a moment the sunlight coming in the near window
made it hard to see his face. The man approached Ryan, suddenly sitting
down across from him. Ryan looked at him and his eyes widened as
recognition ignited in his brain.
"You came back for me!" Ryan's voice was close to cracking with
disbelief. "What happened? Why did leave me here? I waited for hours
everyday for you to bring me back, and nothing happened."
"To be very honest with you, Ryan, I couldn't bring you back. There
was a......flaw in the design. It's been fixed now; otherwise I wouldn't
be here. But there is something that needs to happen before we can leave."
The man answered calmly. Ryan remembered the light accent that he'd never
been able to place, the clipped tone. Ryan shifted a bit.
"What?" he asked quietly. "I did everything you asked me. What
more do you want from me?"
"I want you to make one more.....acquisition for me."
"What are you talking about?" Ryan was becoming more uncomfortable.
The man levelled a penetrating gaze at him.
"I need you to get me a credit card. A.....very particular card. I
know you have expanded on your talents since you've been here.....after
all, you've managed to survive for over ten years by your wits alone."
Ryan dropped his own gaze for a moment before very softly whispering,
"Yeah. I've got a little.....'joint' partnership going here, if you
know what I mean. It's extra cash."
"Hardly legal, I'm afraid." The man's voice had become quiet, too,
but old Mike was half-deaf anyway and could've been standing right next to
them and not heard the conversation. "Do you want to get out of here,
Ryan?" Jaron looked up, and his eyes showed what he wanted. "Then I need
you to do this. The card I'm looking for is a Mastercard. It belongs to
this man, Darien Lambert." A picture was handed over, and Ryan studied it.
"It is my understanding that he is currently located in a town not far
from here named Oak Hill. Do you know where that is?"
"Sure. There's an old warehouse there; it's where I meet
"Very well. You know what to do. Get me that card, and then we'll
"All right......I'll do it, Dr. Sahmbi."
The air was crisp, the sun warm, the breeze light; in short, a
perfect early fall day. The leaves were just beginning to turn, a riot of
color on the hillside. A brook babbled its way happily downhill. Birds
chattered, but other than that, it was.......quiet. A little peace, Darien
realized, could go a long way. SELMA had been right; he'd needed this.
Lambert hiked along the hillside, abandoning an established path and
striking off into the woods themselves, wandering in no apparent hurry.
He'd brought along a small backpack crammed with the necessities for a
picnic lunch, and a book. It had been so long since he'd had a few quiet
hours to read, he hadn't been able to resist the idea.
"SELMA, this is fantastic." It was the first thing Darien had spoken
in about an hour; he had simply been enjoying the quiet surroundings and
the physical work of hiking through the woods.
"After our discussion this morning, I thought you might appreciate a
familiar place." SELMA answered from inside Darien's windbreaker.
"Hmmm.....thanks." Darien sat down on a fallen tree trunk, taking a
moment to catch his breath. He'd pushed steadily up the slope, about three
miles from his starting point, and it was already mid-afternoon. "This
looks like a good spot." He shrugged out of the backpack and pulled out
his feast--some ham and cheese sandwiches, a small bag of crackers and a
thermos of coffee. He spread out the small blanket he'd stuffed in the
bottom of the pack and stretched out with his book, a man on a mission of
solitude in the middle of the woods.
He was deep into chapter four, with two of his three sandwiches gone
and a few crackers left, when he heard some twigs snap loudly off to his
left. Instantly he put down the book and looked that way. "SELMA?"
Before the computer had a chance to respond, a doe pranced daintily
into the clearing. Darien instantly froze, not wanting to frighten her
off, watching the young deer gaze at him with her large brown eyes. Its
ears twitched, as if puzzled; Darien was upwind and the doe couldn't smell
him. For a moment man and animal regarded one another in a sort of
suspended animation. Blinking, breathing, but frozen in time for that one
The breeze kicked up, ruffling the pages of the still-open book. The
noise wasn't much, but it was enough to startle the doe, which bolted
through the clearing into the trees just opposite her.
"Amazing." Darien gazed in the direction the doe had gone. The wind
blew through the clearing again, and this time it carried the promise of
another chilly evening. The shadows would be gathering soon; it was time
to go back to the hotel. He began putting his things into the backpack.
"What time is it, SELMA?" Darien swung the pack up onto his shoulders and
began the long trek back to the dirt road where he'd parked the car.
"Four-thirty two. Have you enjoyed your 'day off', Captain?"
"Completely. Thank you very much." Darien took a more direct route
down the mountain than he'd taken going up, shortest distance between two
points and all that. He whistled lightheartedly as he walked, feeling more
relaxed than he'd been in a long while.
"Once Upon The Wind." SELMA interjected, and Darien stopped his
"That song. You were whistling Once Upon The Wind, written by Skye
Belder in 2168." SELMA explained, and Darien smiled to himself.
"I remember, yes......one of the staffers at the orphanage used to
sing it all the time. We could hear him coming down the hall, humming and
singing everywhere he went." Darien stepped around a tree stump. "He
never did teach me all the words to that."
"Most likely because some popular variations of the song were not
suitable for a boy eight years of age." Lambert laughed.
"I assume you know these variations?" he asked teasingly. SELMA
merely made throat-clearing noises, and Darien laughed even harder.
"SELMA, you're holding out on me....if I didn't know any better, I'd say
you were embarrassed." He reached a place where the stream crossed his
path, and he stepped agilely from stone to stone.
"Very well, Captain, if you insist. But I must say--" SELMA broke
off and redirected her conversation. "Captain, I'm detecting a heat
signature coming from the vicinity of your car. I believe it is
being~slang term~ 'hot wired'."
Darien forgot about limericks from old songs and about keeping his
feet dry and plunged across the rest of the knee-deep stream, running all
out toward the dead-end dirt road where he'd left the vehicle some five
hours earlier. The pack bumped along on his back and his socks squished in
his boots and he knew he was too far.....too far.
Indeed, by the time he succeeded in reaching the end of the three-
mile distance, the car was long gone, and he found himself standing alone
on a rapidly-darkening back road. After catching his breath, he
straightened up and started walking. This time, however, he wasn't
Fortunately for Darien, he'd packed a flashlight, so the walk back to
town was not as difficult as it might have been. The air smelled of rain,
but other than a few sprinkles, it thankfully held off until after he was
back inside the hotel. In fact, no sooner had he stepped into the tiny
lobby, the heavens broke into a loud downpour, spattering the windows and
erupting in thunder and lightning.
"Whew. Guess I just made it." he remarked lightly to the girl who
was behind the counter. She glanced up at him, smiled once, then returned
to her work. Darien started up the stairs, shrugging out of the backpack
as he went.
"Captain, the door to your room is open." SELMA warned softly.
Darien stopped in mid-stride, setting his bag on the landing and taking the
last few steps slowly. Reaching the room, he placed SELMA's link against
the slightly cracked-open door.
"Scan for occupants." he whispered.
"No one is in the room."
Still, Darien remained cautious as he slid SELMA back into his pocket
and carefully opened the door. He reached inside and turned on the
The room had been ransacked. The bed was undone, dresser drawers
were on the floor, their various contents strewn around. The closet was
similarly searched, and clothes were lying on the floor. Darien carefully
"cased" the room, making doubly sure there was no one else there.
Satisfied that he was alone, Lambert returned to the hallway to retrieve
"SELMA, this is ridiculous. First the car, and now this." Darien
dropped the pack onto the floor; it didn't seem terribly pressing to put it
away when so much else needed taking care of. He knelt down, picking up
some socks and his West Point sweatshirt. "Visual mode."
"It is quite obvious the invader was looking for something." SELMA
surveyed the damages with him, a dismayed expression in her holographic
features. "Since no one was waiting for your arrival, perhaps he found
what he was searching for."
"Possible." Darien continued to pick up his scattered belongings.
"We'll see if I'm missing anything by the time I'm done here. It must be a
fugitive; I can't think of any other reason why this would be happening.
Someone knows I'm here, and is trying to gain whatever advantage he can."
It actually took very little time to clean up the mess; Darien hadn't
brought a great deal with him on this mission. However, after taking
inventory on his belongings, he was more puzzled than ever. The intruder
hadn't left any clues to his identity, nothing was missing, and if it was
Darien he wanted, he hadn't stuck around for Lambert to return. Darien
examined the door carefully for signs of forced entry--particularly
futuristic forced entry--but found nothing more than a few scratches which
may or may not have been caused from picking the lock; the passkey could've
left similiar markings easily enough. "Something's just not adding up. He
didn't take anything, and he didn't wait around to kill me. What was he
"It is a safe assumption now that whatever he was looking for, he did
not find." SELMA answered softly, and Darien nodded.
"Which means he may try again." Darien was overtaken by a huge yawn
and he glanced at the nearby clock. Eleven forty-five. "Scan mode, SELMA.
Wake me up if anything unusual happens."
"Yes, Captain. Good night." The holograph vanished, and Darien
stretched out on the bed, remaining fully dressed for the second night in a
row. This time he simply wanted to be ready to face his opponent, should
the break-in artist attempt another search-and-seizure operation. The "car
alarm"--a Pellet Projection Tube--was on the nightstand, a weapon at the
ready should the need arise. Eventually alert concern gave way to
drowsiness, and with SELMA on guard, Darien dropped off into a sound sleep.
The night passed uneventfully enough. The storm had rumbled through
part of it, but now as the sun came up, the clouds were beginning to pass
away to the south. Ryan Jaron had always liked thunderstorms; he used to
love to walk in the rain. His mother used to reprimand him for being so
foolish as to be out on the porch in the wet weather; he used to laugh it
He missed hearing his mother's voice. He'd been missing that sound
since he was 10; his mother had died in a freak accident. Ryan had lived
with his father for the next couple of years before coming to Cogan
He missed his father, too.
It was a rare moment when he allowed himself to think about them,
about home. Ryan's daydreams were interrupted by the shadow of someone
standing above him, and he looked up. Dr. Mordecai Sahmbi joined him on
the park bench.
"Have you been successful?" Sahmbi intoned quietly. Ryan shook his
"Not yet. But don't worry about it. I plan on getting up close and
personal with your buddy Lambert. You'll have your card, I promise."
"You must be careful. He is a Miosh Ti master, after all." Sahmbi
replied, looking away as if interested in something other than the thought
of Darien Lambert's martial arts skills.
"I've had a few lessons too, if you recall." Ryan stood up. "Meet
me back here in six hours." Sahmbi raised his eyebrows slightly.
"Very well, Mr. Jaron. And you'd better deliver on your promise, or
the way home is closed up." The older man also rose, and started across
the park to the opposite gate. Ryan shivered a bit; wishing he had this
over with already. But he shoved his hands deep into his pockets, and
walked quickly back the way he'd come. Six hours.....can't waste any time.
The night passed uneventfully enough; the ringing of the telephone
startled Darien into sitting straight up, one hand closing around the PPT
unit on the nightstand. After the third ring, however, he was a little
more aware of himself, and he picked up the receiver.
"Is this Darien Lambert?" The voice on the other end of the line was
youthful and exuberant, evidence that the speaker had been up quite a bit
earlier than Darien, even though it was only seven-thirty one in the
"This is Darien Lambert."
"Good, good. This is Sergeant Dale Travis. Are you missing a
vehicle, by any chance?" That caught Darien's attention, and he set aside
"As a matter of fact, my car was stolen last night while I was out
for a walk."
"Well, my friend, we have it here. We found it last night outside of
the Dairy Queen downtown. Nothing seems to be missing; looks like some
kids just took it for a joyride. If you decide not to press charges, you
can come down anytime today and claim it."
"How about......an hour?" Darien consulted the clock again.
"Very good, Mr. Lambert. Have a nice morning, now." But even before
the phone was completely hung up, Darien was quickly preparing for a walk
to the local police station.
The walk itself was not long, but the morning air was cold enough
that Darien was glad to step inside when he got there. The place was
rather quiet; Oak Hill was not exactly a hotbed of criminal activity. The
duty officer was at the front desk; she was busy stamping several
documents. Other than the occasional ring of a telephone, the thump of her
inkstamp was the only sound in the room.
Darien approached her, and she glanced up long enough to acknowledge
"May I help you?" Darien smiled, the familiar sense of red tape
creeping over him.
"Yes, please, Officer.......McNeil." He read her namebadge. "My
name is Darien Lambert, and I'm here to see Sergeant Travis." That got the
officer's attention, and she looked at him strangely.
"Sergeant Travis, did you say?" She had forgotten about the inkstamp
for the moment. Darien nodded.
"Yes. Dale Travis. He called me this morning about my car--"
"Sir, that's impossible. Sergeant Dale Travis has been dead for a
year and a half." Darien's surprise must have been written in his
expression, for McNeil reached out a hand consolingly. "Did you know
"We, uh.....no. I talked to someone this morning who identified
himself as Dale Travis and said he'd located my car."
"You reported a stolen car?" The officer started shuffling through
papers, and Darien shook his head.
"No....no, it was just taken last night, and by the time I got back
into town.....never mind. Whoever it was asked me to come here to pick it
up." Darien explained, scratching his head both literally and
figuratively. "I guess it was some kind of mistake." He turned to go, and
McNeil called after him,
"Do you want to file a report on your car?" Lambert merely waved her
off and continued on his way outside. There were more important things to
consider than just the missing car.
"SELMA, what do you have on a Sergeant Dale Travis?" Darien murmured
as he headed in the direction of the local diner. He'd skipped breakfast
in his hurry to come down here; it seemed like a good idea to get some now.
"Very little, Captain. After his academy training, he returned here
to his hometown and served in his position until his death at the age of
"Nothing unusual about that. What about that phone call?"
"It was placed from the public telephone just outside the station."
Darien crossed the street against the light, but the intersection was
vacant, except for another fellow who'd had the same idea and was crossing
in the opposite direction. The bumped each other slightly; the young man
seemed to be in a major hurry. Darien was about to step onto the curb when
"Captain, you have been robbed." Lambert turned around, his hand
instinctively reaching for his wallet, although if it had been gone, so
would SELMA. The wallet was in the inside pocket of his leather jacket,
but his badge was missing from the outer pocket. The man was still walking
"Hey!" he shouted, and the thief started running. Darien took off
after him, and the footchase wound its way through narrow alleys and
parking lots, back yards and school crossings. The pickpocket was quick,
and had the advantage of being thoroughly familiar with the town; it was a
challenge to keep up with him.
Finally, though, the thief stumbled on an uneven bit of pavement in
an alley, allowing Darien to come close enough to fire his PPT. The green
pellet planted itself, and the man dropped like a stone. Suddenly the
pickpocket began to shake with convulsions, and Darien's eyes widened in
surprise; he'd never seen anyone react to a pellet in such a manner. He
hurried to the other man's side, trying to make sure the thief didn't
swallow his tongue or something.
"SELMA!" Darien called out as the convulsions subsided. "What was
that? I didn't think anyone could be allergic to a pellet."
"That is quite impossible. Allow me to scan him." Darien fished
SELMA's link from his wallet and placed her on the thief's forehead. A
light pulse emanated from the card momentarily as SELMA began her scan. "A
petit-mal epileptic seizure......brain condition and activity suggest that
this is a first-time occurance.....Captain, his physiology indicates that
he is from our time."
"He's from the future?" Darien was surprised again, and he frowned,
turning the information over in his mind. "Can you identify him?"
"Scanning.......He is Ryan Marshall Jaron, age 25. His father is
Maryland Enclave Director Michael Jaron. According to my records, he was
reported missing in the year 2180, at the age of 12. He was never found."
Darien's mouth dropped open, the significance of SELMA's report
hitting him like a freight train.
"SELMA, do you realize what you're saying? In 2180, by the NHA's
records, TRAX was still in its experimental stages. Sahmbi was only just
beginning to test TRAX on inanimate objects.....scientific recording
equipment, things like that. And even then, only teleportation, not
temportation. How can Ryan be here now?" Darien ran a hand through his
hair. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. "Tom Kane was temported before
2180. Remember, he said he came back in 2176. He said he was one of
Sahmbi's first experiments. I didn't think too much about it at the time;
I was too busy trying to talk myself into sending him back." Tom Kane had
been a fugitive living as a U.S. Marshal in Arizona; Darien had helped him
capture an escaped 20th century convict some months ago; Kane had died in
the process, before Darien could send him back.
"The trace TXP in Ryan's system is a variant of the current
formulation employed by your PPT." SELMA confirmed. "It is consistent
with the early notations Elyssa Chang-Knox made of TXP's original chemical
structure in her theoretical work. I believe that the interaction of your
pellet with this earlier, more volatile form of TXP is what caused the
"He lied to even the NHA about TRAX. Sahmbi conducted all of his
experiments on live subjects, SELMA." Darien glanced down at the
motionless thief. "Tom Kane and Ryan were lucky; they survived. I wonder
how many of Sahmbi's 'test subjects' didn't."
"May I suggest, Captain, that this may not be the most suitable place
to continue this conversation?"
Darien glanced around; the town was beginning to come alive in its
own sleepy way. He searched the man's pockets and retrieved his badge,
then got the thief up into a one-man carry.
"All right, SELMA. Show me the best way back to the hotel without
They had entered the hotel by the service entrance, and Darien had
managed to get his unconscious charge into his room unobserved. He laid
Jaron carefully on the bed, and draped a blanket over him. As he turned
around, he noticed a small packet that had fallen from Ryan's jacket, and
he picked it up. A nickel-bag of marijuana.
"SELMA, when you examined Ryan, did you find any evidence of drug
"No, Captain, I did not. There are none of the typical physical
effects of marijuana present in his system."
"So he's strictly a dealer." Darien pulled up the end of the blanket
and looked at Ryan's sneakers. Nikes. "The kid I tried to grab at the
warehouse the night we were after Max wore sneakers just like these. And
this is identical to the bag they left behind." Darien put the nickel bag
in his pocket. "Visual mode, SELMA. What do you have on Ryan Jaron in
"Ryan was picked up by the authorities after having been involved in
an altercation with some local trouble-makers. When they could not locate
Ryan's family, he was turned over to the state and placed in several foster-
homes. He also underwent extensive pyschological counselling for nearly a
year, because his descriptions of home and family led some of the case
workers to believe him delusional and possibly even schizophrenic.
Eventually Ryan came to live in Cogan Station, a town just seven miles due
east. He's been suspected of various misdemeanors, but has no criminal
"Well, as soon as I find out what he's been up to, then I'll send him
home. I'm sure his father--"
"Captain, there may be some.....difficulty in returning Ryan to the
22nd century." SELMA interrupted, and Darien looked up sharply.
"Difficulty? You mean we might not be able to send him back?"
"That is a distinct possibility. I am concerned that the trace TXP
in his system will react adversely to the current form of TXP, much as it
did to your first pellet, causing a more severe and damaging seizure."
"Great. Just.....great." Darien rubbed the back of his neck with
one hand. "Projection mode, SELMA. Show me the transcripts Sahmbi
submitted to the NHA on his early TRAX experiments."
"Scanning.......I have them." SELMA displayed the information
requested, and Darien skimmed the first few paragraphs.
"How many of these reports were turned in to the NHA?"
"My records indicate there were seven such reports filed with the NHA
between July 2180 and October 2183, the only documentation ever produced on
"Right before his funding was officially cut off." Darien noted.
"And after Tom Kane had already been temported to the 20th century."
"That is correct. Captain....." SELMA's tone became somber. "Two
of those experiments were listed as failures." Darien looked away, his jaw
clenching tightly for a moment.
"Then it's probably safe to assume......the people involved were
killed." He glanced back at the report still projected in front of him.
"And Jaron's here. That leaves four more people we need to locate. SELMA,
scan for any NHA records on TRAX or Sahmbi. We need to figure out where to
While he waited for Ryan to come out from under the effects of the
pellet, Darien studied the NHA records on Sahmbi's research, trying to find
clues that would point him in the direction of the other four "test
subjects" that had been abandoned here. So far, he was drawing a blank.
"There's a two year gap between Tom Kane's temportation and the
beginning of the NHA's official involvement with Sahmbi. Somebody had to
be fronting the money for TRAX during that time." Darien paced as he
thought aloud. "But who?"
"Captain.....Ryan is returning to consciousness."
"Right, SELMA. Voice mode." The projection disappeared and Darien
returned to the bed, where the dazed young man was just sitting up.
"Easy.....you've had a rough afternoon."
Ryan recognized Darien and rolled rapidly off the bed, coming up with
his hands in the Miosh Ti triangle, perfectly balanced on the balls of his
feet. Darien raised a hand slowly. "I'm not going to hurt you, Ryan. I
want to help you."
"Yeah, well, I'm used to helping myself." Ryan answered, holding his
"I've had some experience with that." Lambert remained watchful, but
he allowed his hands to hang relaxed at his sides. "After all, you were
the one who trashed this room last night, weren't you?"
"You haven't got a bit of proof." Jaron came around the end of the
bed slowly, still on guard.
"Maybe not, but I could always turn you in for possession of this."
Darien pulled the nickel bag out of his pocket and held it up. "I believe
we've met once before--the warehouse at the end of town? You took a swing
at me with a pipe."
Ryan's response was to snap a kick in the direction of Lambert's jaw,
a move Darien countered easily, blocking and backing up a step, not wanting
to strike back. He needed answers from Jaron.......if he could get them.
Ryan followed up with a series of blows, only one of which he actually
managed to land, and that only because Darien misjudged slightly. The rest
were blocked effortlessly, fair proof that Darien was much better trained
in the martial art than Ryan. Jaron backed off, but still stood ready to
fight, his eyes watching Darien closely.
"Why did you bring me here?" Ryan wanted to know. "Why not dump me
with the cops?"
"Because I am a cop. Captain Darien Lambert, Fugitive Retrieval
Section, from the year 2193. I brought you here because the pellet I shot
you with caused an epileptic seizure. I wanted to make sure you came out
of it all right." Darien watched as Ryan slowly lowered his hands.
"Seizure? What are you talking about?" Ryan sat down on the edge of
the bed, trying to decide if he should trust Darien or not. Lambert could
tell he was being sized up, and he remained where he was.
"The chemical Dr. Sahmbi gave you before he sent you back here is
dangerous. It's called TXP, and the formula has changed a couple of times
since you first came. The original compound in your system is a little
more unstable than the current version. It reacted to the pellet, causing
"So....why are you here? Sahmbi send you back, too?" Ryan wanted to
know. Information, after all, often came in handy.
"In a matter of speaking. Dr. Sahmbi sent many fugitives to this
time. I came to find them and send them back."
Ryan's eyebrows lifted slightly. Fugitives? Interesting. I bet
those NHA chips came in handy after all.
"So......can you send me back?"
"I don't know. There were a lot of changes in the temportation
"Temportation?" Jaron was frowning now; Darien nodded to himself.
Of course; Ryan had only been twelve years old when he'd been sent back.
TRAX might not have even been named yet.
"Temporal transportation......temportation. Anyhow, there were some
modifications made that might make it hard for you to go back." Darien
sighed. "I'm working on it. But I need your help. There are four other
people who were sent back like you were, and most likely abandoned here
like you were. I need your help to find them. If there is a way to send
you home, I'd like to send all five of you."
"Why should I believe you?" Ryan demanded, and Darien returned his
"I give you my word. That's all I have to offer." The two looked at
one another for a long moment, and then Ryan nodded. "All right. Let's
start at the beginning. How did you become involved with Mordecai Sahmbi?"
Ryan's recollections of his first meeting with Dr. Sahmbi were a bit
sketchy, but after all, ten years and two centuries had come between them.
Sahmbi, it turned out, was an acquaintance of Ryan's father, and had
visited the Jaron home a number of times. These visits were often held in
his father's study, so Ryan had no idea what they were about. After a few
months, however, Sahmbi had turned some attention toward Ryan, and it was
not particularly welcome. Somehow the scientist had discovered Ryan's
talent for computers and had pressured him into hacking into the NHA's
database; Ryan said Sahmbi had used 'subtle threats' against his father and
sister. Ryan had only been ten years old, but had been described as
'gifted' by his teachers in school, and he had the talent to do as Sahmbi
asked. The information was all classified, so Ryan had never bothered to
find out what it was; he simply obtained it and passed it on to Sahmbi.
Eventually, though, his conscience caught up with him, and he resolved to
tell his father. Ryan declared his intentions to Sahmbi, and that same
day, in 2180, Dr. Sahmbi sent Ryan into the 20th century.
"So you stole government secrets for two years for him, and never got
caught?" Darien had to admit, even though Ryan had broken the law many
times over, he was impressed that a ten year old could have broken into the
NHA database, something that his own police force had never been able to
"That's about the size of it."
"So why did you break in here last night? And bait me this morning?
What were you after?" Darien asked. Ryan shrugged.
"I've been picking locks and pockets long before you showed up here,
Lambert. Out-of-towners are usually easy marks and I've had to be pretty
self-sufficient most of my life here. When I didn't find anything worth
taking here, I thought maybe I could score some cash from you today, if
"And the drugs?" Darien pressed. Ryan sighed.
"That was almost an accident, how that got started. Let's just say I
know some people who wanted someone with some brains to operate a local
distribution network. I've got brains, they had money. End of story."
Darien got up and walked into the bathroom, judiciously disposing of Ryan's
'nickel bag'. Ryan's voice turned wistful. "I just wish I could start
"I'm glad to hear you say that." Darien remarked from the doorway.
"If I am able to send you back, I'll have to let my superiors know about
what you did. But considering the circumstances, I don't think anyone will
be very hard on you. I'm sure you'll get that opportunity to start over."
Wish I could believe that. Ryan thought to himself.
Click....click....click....click....click. SELMA signalled Darien,
and he straightened away from the doorframe. "Pager." he explained, and
Ryan nodded. Lambert walked over to the phone and picked it up, turning
his back toward Ryan and speaking softly. "What is it, SELMA?"
"I have been searching my database on Michael Jaron, and have
uncovered some interesting information that I believe was placed here by
"I have found some unauthorized documents pertaining to the trial of
Derrick Westerman, the former director of the NHA. This was a closed-court
proceeding, and highly classified, so how this made its way into my files,
I am not sure."
"I remember hearing something about that.....some sort of witch-hunt
for moles in the organization. There was a lot of house-cleaning done
within the ranks. If I remember, Westerman was charged and convicted of
creating some sort of 'shadow organization' within the NHA, a group that
was operating covertly with their own agenda."
"That is quite correct. He was imprisoned in 2181, on a life
sentence. Apparently, in a vain attempt to gain clemency from the court,
Westerman named several other individuals allegedly involved with this
shadow organization. One of them was Michael A. Jaron, Ryan's father.
Westerman named him as a 'pocket man' for the outfit. Captain.....what is
a 'pocket man'?"
"Um....a 'pocket man' is a term for someone specializing in.....shall
we say, creative financial management? Sometimes the funds in question are
referred to as 'pocket change'. Often these funds are used to recruit new
agents into the field."
"Ah. I see; money laundering."
"Exactly. And that would explain where Sahmbi was getting his money
from during that time; if Jaron was trying to 'recruit' him to develop TRAX
for this shadow organization, that makes a lot of sense. Only Sahmbi was
playing both sides of the fence, as usual, and used Ryan to gain
information that would help him link up with the NHA if Westerman's outfit
folded up." Darien cleared his throat softly as he glanced back at Ryan.
The younger Jaron seemed to be occupied with staring out the window. "What
happened to those allegations concerning Jaron's links to Westerman?"
"Nothing. After some investigation, Michael Jaron was declared
innocent of wrongdoing; no formal charges were ever brought against him.
However, there were others named by Westerman, and Captain.....all four of
them disappeared between 2181 and 2183."
"Did you say, four?" Darien murmured. "Cross reference those
disappearances with those transcripts from Sahmbi's experiments."
"Scanning." SELMA paused a moment. "Captain, the dates match almost
exactly within twenty-four hours of each other."
"So......once the NHA took over TRAX' development from the shadow
organization, they conveniently got rid of their four moles, and Sahmbi
wasn't lying to the NHA--he was helping them cover up with those reports."
Darien sighed. "Cozy little arrangement. Thanks a lot, SELMA." He 'hung
up' the phone, and headed into the kitchen. "Do you want anything?"
Darien called out to Ryan.
Lambert got a glass and opened a soda.
"You know, sometimes I think the best thing about being here is that--
" Darien turned around, and Ryan was right there, having come behind him
silently and swiftly. Before Lambert could even react, Jaron was swinging
with a Miosh Ti move, a heavy glass hotel ashtray in his hand. The blow
caught Darien just above his left eye, and he staggered back, everything
spinning crazily around him. Ryan closed in and struck again, and this
time Darien dropped to the floor, unconscious and face down. Jaron turned
him over quickly and searched Darien's pockets. Finding the wallet, he
checked for the Mastercard.......yes! Jamming the wallet into his jacket,
Ryan quickly left the hotel room, clattering down the front steps and out
the door, hurrying to make his appointment with Mordecai Sahmbi. Because,
after all, Sahmbi was his best hope of making it back home. There would
be no criminal record, no report of actions that might hurt his father, and
best of all, no more Cogan Station or Oak Hill. He was beating the dust of
these little towns off his feet and going back to Washington
Mordecai Sahmbi waited in the park where he'd met Ryan a mere six
hours earlier, watching people absently as they walked by. Amazing, how
easily he could control his own destiny in a place like this. People were
small and petty, easily twisted in the 22nd century; here they were merely
simple. Ignorant of their fate, the wars and devastations to come, and the
hardness of attitude and thinking that would come out of the next two
hundred years. Of course, the 20th century was not lacking in its own
element of darkness and intrigues, but there was something here that made
Sahmbi much more aware of his own power than he'd been aware of it in 2193.
Once upon a time he had been as altruistic and optimistic as Darien
Lambert, but certain realities had taught him to become.....more practical
in his thinking.
Twelve-fifteen. Ryan Jaron was late. Sahmbi decided to be patient;
after all, his prize was of utmost importance, and Jaron wasn't going to
waste an opportunity to be reunited with his family. So he watched the
people around him and thought about how he was going to control, not only
his destiny, but theirs as well.......
A flutter of wings as nearby pigeons were disturbed announced Ryan's
hasty arrival. Sahmbi looked up coolly at him, and the young man shrugged
"So I'm a little late. I don't think you should worry too much, Dr.
Sahmbi." Jaron flipped Darien's wallet into the scientist's lap. "You've
got your credit card." Sahmbi quickly opened the wallet and pulled the
card from it, slipping it into a special case he'd brought along just for
this purpose, then tucked the case into his coat pocket.
"And I have you. Very well, then, Mr. Jaron. It's time to send you
home. Come with me." Mo Sahmbi came to his feet, and he led Ryan from the
park. Phase Two was about to begin.........
The first thing Darien was aware of was that his hand was wet. The
next thing was that for the second time in three days he'd been clobbered
hard enough to really hurt. He was lying on his back on the cold kitchen
floor, and for a moment he had a hard time focusing his eyes. Slowly he
sat up, and he groaned as the motion produced waves of pain in his head.
He noticed the spilled soda; the reason his hand was wet........and sticky.
Darien glanced at his watch. It was nearly two-thirty; he'd been out cold
for almost three hours. He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling as if the
mere act of thinking was going to hurt too much to even attempt. Of
course, Ryan Jaron was long gone.
"SELMA?" he murmured, carefully climbing to his feet. Dizziness
rushed over him and he grabbed the counter, but just as quickly the
sensation passed and he leaned back against the counter. "SELMA, visual
mode." Nothing happened, but in his dazed state, it took a few beats for
Darien to realize there hadn't even been a vocal response. "Visual mode."
Suddenly it dawned on him just what had happened, and he checked for his
wallet. Gone. "SELMA!" Darien swore softly. After all, without SELMA,
his mission here was finished......
Okay, okay, Lambert.......Darien drew in a deep breath. Get yourself
together. He still had his PPT. Well, that was something. He wondered
briefly if SELMA had tried to contact him already, while he'd been
unconscious. Darien caught a glance of himself in the reflection from the
kitchen window, and even in that faint image he could see the bruise on his
forehead. "Okay, think." Darien directed himself, trying to get a handle
on the situation. He made his way to the telephone, swaying slightly on
his feet. Quickly he dialed SELMA's unlisted number, but he received no
response from the memory archive, just a busy signal. He tried the
automated access code from SELMA's manual, and upon being identified by the
automated system was informed that 'your archive is unresponsive to this
message. Please try again'. Darien hung up the phone, and turned around.
Unresponsive? What was that about? "SELMA, I hope you're all right....."
Suddenly there was a soft knock on his door, and Darien pulled out
his PPT. Never mind the fact that he was still too lightheaded to aim it
properly. He held it ready at his side as he called out,
The door swung open, and Officer McNeil stood there.
"Mr. Lambert, I thought I'd stop by and--" McNeil got a good look
at Darien, and she stepped right in. "Good heavens, what happened to you?"
"I'm.....uh.....all right." Darien pocketed his PPT and took a step
forward. But he was off-balance and he nearly stumbled into her.
"No, you're not. You should have a doctor look at that." She
steadied him and guided him over to the bed, where he sat down gratefully.
"That's quite a shiner you've got there." Her fingers gently brushed his
hair out of the way for a better look at the bruise.
"Shiner?" he murmured, not quite sure what she was talking about.
"You got hit pretty hard, I'd say. Let me take you over to Doc
Adams'--" She pulled on his arm, but Darien reached up and took her hand.
"No.....I'll be all right. Really." He assured her, and he motioned
for her to sit down. "What did you want to talk about?"
"Well, I was going to ask you about your car, see if I could file a
report for you and get something started on it. But.....seems to me like
you've got more problems than just a stolen car." McNeil's eyes were
looking rather probingly at Darien, as if just by staring she could get him
to open up to her. They were very green, those eyes, a tribute to her
Irish heritage along with her auburn curls. But the gentle Southern lilt
to her voice had come from years of living in Virginia.
"My car....." To be honest, Darien had quite forgotten about the
vehicle in the rush of the day's events. McNeil already had a notepad and
pen out. Darien regarded her for a long moment, then thought perhaps she
might be just the help he needed to locate SELMA. After all, it worked the
last time SELMA was stolen..... "As a matter of fact, I do have another
problem. Here....let me explain." He reached behind himself to pick up
his jacket, from which he produced his badge.
"Captain Lambert." McNeil murmured upon inspection. "And all the
way from Washington, D.C." She handed the badge back, then stuck out her
hand. "Molly McNeil. I've been a deputy sherriff here for almost four
years now." Darien accepted her hand; was slightly surprised at the
firmness of her grip. "What brings you to a teeny place like Oak Hill,
"I've been working a case, undercover now, for almost a year."
Darien improvised. "One of the principles in my investigation is living
out in Cogan Station. Fellow by the name of Ryan Jaron."
"Ryan?" Molly's eyes widened slightly. "I always knew that boy was
a little mixed up in the head, and we've thought for years that he's been a
pusher, but never got anything on him."
"Pusher?" Darien echoed, puzzled.
"You know....dope. Mary-Jane." McNeil replied. Darien wasn't
familiar with the term "mary-jane", but understood that she was referring
to the marijuana, and he nodded.
"Sometimes in our line of work, hard evidence doesn't come that
easily, I know." Lambert shifted a little bit, facing Molly more fully.
"I can't reveal all the details of my case; some of it is classified. But
I do think Ryan is involved, and I have to find him." There was something
in the urgency of Darien's tone that made Molly nod in agreement.
"All right, Captain. I'll do what I can to help."
The drive out of Oak Hill had been less than an hour, maybe forty
minutes. Sahmbi had made Ryan drive, directing him with terse instructions
along the country backroads. Eventually they arrived at a large, abandoned
house that was set back well away from prying eyes; most people had
forgotten the place even existed. Only a few very old folks even knew
anything about it at all. The place was overgrown with weeds and scrubby
shrubbery, the wisteria growing in wild vines all along the side of the
house, overrunning half-rotted trellises and practically dominating the
entire side of the west wall.
"This is nice." Ryan remarked cheerlessly, but Sahmbi said nothing
in reply as the car was pulled in as far as it would go.
"Come with me, Mr. Jaron. In order to return you home to your father
and sister, we need to make some preparations." Sahmbi exited the car, and
after a moment, so did Ryan. There was something in the scientist's tone
that made him feel.....insignificant, somehow, as if nothing he'd ever done
for the man had ever really been appreciated.
"Yeah, right. Last time there wasn't any preparation. It was just
'let's dump the kid in the past and let them sort it out'." Ryan followed
Sahmbi sullenly, just wishing this were over. He couldn't get the picture
of Darien lying unconscious on the floor out of his head. He hadn't even
bothered to make sure Lambert was still alive........and the thought that
he was so desperate to go home as to kill someone...... Well, it chilled
him, and he just jammed his hands into his pockets and shut up.
The two men, older and younger, entered the dilapidated structure,
and Ryan looked around. Seems steady enough.....better watch where I walk,
"I've already explained that there was a problem with the system at
the time I returned you. I had no choice but to leave you in this time."
Sahmbi replied coolly. "Actually, TRAX had several shortcomings, all of
which I plan to conquer in time." He opened a door that led downstairs
into the cellar. Ryan hesitated a moment, then at Sahmbi's request,
started down the steps.
He was absolutely amazed at what he saw. Some of the most
sophisticated computer equipment of this time was set up here, in a well-
lit, completely converted basement. Ryan, his attention always arrested by
computers in both centuries, couldn't help but be impressed at the setup.
Certainly it was crude compared to 22nd century standards, but for this
time it was a nice little bit of hardware. At the far end of the room was
a small booth, vaguely resembling the TRAX chamber from 2193.
"I bet this took a little time to put together." Jaron murmured.
Sahmbi smiled, knowing full well the talent of this boy before him, and to
what use he was about to put that talent.
"Yes, it did. Captain Lambert's case conveniently brought him here;
I didn't have to make any special arrangements to secure his presence in
order to acquire this--" He tapped the case in his pocket that contained
SELMA. "Now, Mr. Jaron, about those preparations......I need you to
override a computer system. This system is absolutely essential to the
success of my plans.........and therefore, to the success of your return
home. Do you understand me?" Mordecai Sahmbi's tone had grown quite cold,
ominous, and forceful. Ryan frowned a little bit.
"What plans? You wanted a credit card, I got it for you. I'm
through with doing your laundry, Sahmbi. Just send me home, and we'll call
"Ryan....." Sahmbi's eyes narrowed slightly. "You'll do as I ask,
or you'll not only never go home, you won't live to see tomorrow. Now
that, I promise you."
"All right......all right. So you've got me by the throat. Are you
happy now?" Ryan snapped. Sahmbi inclined his head momentarily.
"If you say so, Mr. Jaron. Now, about that system....."
"Who is it? What's the target?" Ryan sat down at the computer
terminal the scientist had set up for him. Sahmbi removed the case from
his pocket and took the Mastercard from within. Waving it once, he slipped
the card into the terminal's drive.
"That's your target. Ryan Jaron, meet SELMA, Captain Lambert's
"You will not be successful in your plans, Dr. Sahmbi." SELMA
"What the blue fire rings is that?" Ryan gasped, simultaneously
amazed and startled.
"It is a 22nd century mainframe, Ryan, an encapsulated memory
archive. I estimate you have approximately two hours before this unit
overruns the special safety protocols I have installed on this computer.
You must gain control of its primary programming overrides within that
"You're kidding." Ryan flexed his fingers, feeling the old familiar
thrill of the hunt, a feeling he had not experienced in a long, long time.
"I've made some.....special modifications to this equipment. You'll
see." Sahmbi replied easily.
"You attempted to control my Captain once." SELMA spoke again. "And
you failed in that attempt. What makes you certain that you will be any
more able to control me?"
"Human beings, " Sahmbi answered easily, "are too....unpredictable.
Sometimes the will is stronger than logic dictates it should be.
However......computers are governed by very specific parameters. Know what
those parameters are, and control is easily enough established." He turned
his attention to Ryan. "You'd better get started, Mr. Jaron. You have one
hour and fifty-six minutes."
Darien had wanted to start looking for Ryan right away, but Molly
flatly refused to go anywhere until he agreed to have himself examined by
the local doctor.
"You could be really hurt. And your big undercover case won't mean a
whole lot if you end up pushin' up daisies."
Despite his anxiousness to find SELMA and find a way to send Ryan
home, Darien found the remark somewhat amusing and puzzling all at once,
and his expression turned slightly quizzical.
" 'Pushing up daisies'?" he inquired curiously. Now it was Molly's
turn to look confused.
"You've never heard that before?" She asked, and Darien shook his
head. "Pushin' up daisies.......you know, buy the farm, turn up your toes,
six feet under?"
"Oh, you mean a terminal vacation.......unplugged.......lab slabbed."
"Lab slabbed?" Molly echoed. Darien smiled slightly.
"I know someone who works in a morgue back home; the body drawers
sometimes are referred to as 'slabs'." Molly swatted his shoulder, making
"That's really disgusting, you know that?" But she was smiling back
at him. "In any case, Captain, I don't want to have to explain to your
superiors in Washington how their investigation derailed because you
dropped dead." Darien realized she wasn't going to be talked out of it,
whether he accepted her help in his search for Ryan Jaron or not.
"I just don't want to get stuck in a hospital bed. There's too much
at stake for me to be benched on this."
"I understand, Captain. Let me get my car, and we'll get going."
Molly pulled out her keys, Darien picked up his jacket, and together they
headed down the stairs.
On the drive over to Doc Adams', Molly glanced at Darien a few times,
intrigued. She had sensed something was different about him the moment
she'd met him at the station, but now she was beginning to wonder
where......and when......he was from. She hadn't heard the term 'lab-
slabbed' in ten years, since her days in the NHA......There had been rumors
from the others that Sahmbi had sent a lot of people back via TRAX; perhaps
this Darien Lambert was one of them. Maybe, like herself, he had been
forced to come here against his will. Maybe he had made a life for himself
as a cop in Washington, D.C. much as she had here in Oak Hill. Molly
wanted to know, but she wanted to know on her terms.
"So......do you like living in Washington?" She asked idly, trying
to draw him out. "I haven't been there in years."
"Yes. I've lived in Washington for most of my life." Darien
answered, which was true enough. "But I was raised in Chicago."
"Chicago......hmmmm." Molly filed that away in her brain. "You
don't happen to be a Cubs fan, are you?" She flicked on her turn signal
and took a right hand turn.
"You like baseball?" Darien smiled, his blue eyes twinkling. "I've
followed the Cubs since I was a little boy."
"Yeah, I like baseball. But I feel sorry for you, liking the
Cubbies. They're lousy this year. I like the Atlanta Braves, myself.
More Cy Young pitchers on their roster than anybody else in the league."
Molly glanced at him again, and the smile was still there.
"Well......let's just say I believe the Cubs will be great someday."
He replied. There was a note of assurance in his tone that registered with
McNeil. Yeah, she thought to herself, they'll win a pennant in 2181. Who
are you, Captain?
She pulled into the parking lot of a small medical building, and
turned off the car.
"Here we are." She announced, opening her door. "I guess we can
argue ball later."
SELMA tried once more to contact her Captain, but once again, the
special encoded program Sahmbi had created intercepted her signal and
prevented it from being transmitted. She had been surprised by how quickly
Ryan had been able to access her systems; he hadn't harmed anything vital
yet, but he was rapidly hacking his way into more critical areas, and she
didn't know how much longer she had before he was in a position to do some
real damage. Her own efforts to "break out" of Sahmbi's private network
were meeting with moderate success. It had turned into something
resembling an electronic game of cat-and-mouse. Her survival protocol
prompted her to act in a different fashion; she decided to communicate with
Ryan Jaron directly in order to "buy more time" to secure her freedom.
"Ryan, the decision you are making is not wise." SELMA said simply,
but Jaron continued his feverish work.
"What do you know about it? You're just a computer." Ryan's fingers
flew across the keyboard, finding that all the old skills were still
intact, even after ten years of disuse.
"I am a fully realized holographic memory archive, actually. And I
know much more about your situation than you realize. Captain Lambert has
been in pursuit of Dr. Sahmbi for nearly two years now, and we are quite
familiar with his capacity for evil." SELMA continued, as she made a few
moves of her own and came that much closer to being able to signal her
"Hmph." Jaron sniffed, but he did not stop. "I found out about that
a long time ago. But rotten or not, he's my only ticket out of here, and I
plan on doing whatever it is I have to so I can go home."
"Even if that includes theft, assault, or worse?" SELMA replied
evenly. Ryan actually hesitated a moment as the image of Darien lying
motionless popped into his head again. But it was only for a moment, and
he determinedly began typing again.
"Don't try to shake me up. I'm on my way back home, and nobody's
gonna know what I did two hundred years in the past."
"But you will know, Ryan. And you will carry that knowledge with you
for the rest of your life."
Ryan glanced toward the drive in which SELMA was inserted. For a
computer, she seemed to have the uncanny ability to sound like his
"Forget it. I'm not buying into your psychology. I've had enough of
that junk to last me a lifetime." Type.....type......type. Another file
fell in SELMA's defense, and he was getting closer to getting what he
"What will you do if Mo Sahmbi cannot send you back?"
The question hung in the air for a long moment, and Ryan sat there
frozen, considering the idea for the first time. Darien had said that it
might be dangerous for him to try going back......maybe there was
something to that.
Then again, it might just be a trick to get him to stop hacking. His
fingers returned to their work. However, that moment's hesitation allowed
SELMA to break into another file herself, allowing her to send a short,
high-speed message for her captain......
Dr. Adams was a kind, older gentleman with graying hair and sharp
hazel eyes. He was a stereotypical small-town physician; he had delivered
most of the babies in Oak Hill for the last fifteen years and was on a
first-name basis with almost everyone in the immediate area. Darien was
taken into an examination room by Adams' nurse, and Molly drew close to the
"Hi, Doc." She greeted, and Adams smiled at her.
"What did you bring me, Molly?" He smiled back in a fatherly sort of
"He got beaned pretty good in a break-in. Just wanted to make sure
he was all right before we go down to the station. Say, Doc.....if it's
not too much trouble, would you mind letting me see his chart before you
let 'im out of there?" She motioned toward the room, and Adams followed
her gesture with his eyes.
"Let's just say it's for a case." McNeil answered, and Adams nodded.
"Always happy to help the law."
While Adams performed his examination of Darien, Molly sat down in
the waiting room and flipped idly through a magazine. Her mind was
elsewhere, however. She was wondering what was happening today in 2193.
Her daughter, her Maggie, would be eleven years old soon. Molly had been
forced to leave her husband and four-month-old baby girl behind by the NHA
when they decided she was too much of a liability after the Westerman
trial. They had kidnapped her from her own office, injected her with TXP,
and forced her into the TRAX chamber.......
"Molly? Are you all right?"
She glanced up, startled, realizing that Doc Adams had been standing
there for a moment or two. She brushed away the tears that had begun to
form when she thought about Maggie, and stood up.
"I'm fine. Just......remembering something, that's all." Adams
handed her a manila folder that contained his notes.
"Your friend has a slight concussion, but he'll be all right. I
recommend he takes it easy for awhile. But.....if the concussion heals as
quickly as that bruise seems to be, then it won't be long before he's just
Molly glanced up from the notes, curious.
"What do you mean, Doc?"
"I've never seen a bruise that deep begin to dissolve so quickly.
Even in the short time he's been here, it's begun to heal."
"Hmm....." Molly glanced back toward the medical notes. Darien's
heartrate had adjusted to this time period, just as hers had over the
years, so that didn't tell her anything. In fact, there wasn't anything
that indicated a 22nd century origin. She handed the folder back.
A few minutes later, Darien joined her. She looked at his forehead;
Adams was right--the bruise was markedly lighter than when she'd first
entered the captain's hotel room. It wasn't much more to go on than the
slang he'd used earlier, but together they made her feel fairly sure that
this man was from her own time. She'd let him know about it when she was
ready, though, and not before. Besides the three other NHA agents who had
been sent back after the Westerman affair, she had had no contact with
anyone else from the future. She wanted to make sure she could trust this
captain before she told him anything about who she was and why she was
"So....." Darien motioned toward the door. "Ready to get started?"
"Yes, I think so, Captain." Molly answered, and Darien smiled.
"Darien, please." He opened the door for her and she stepped out
ahead of him.
"All right......Darien. Only if you call me Molly." McNeil headed
for the car, and Darien's smile remained.
The drive to Cogan Station was not long; after all, the towns were
only separated by seven miles worth of country roads, not all of them
paved. Molly had suggested they try the obvious places first and get them
out of the way; Ryan's home, his workplace, the local bar and grill. They
were headed for the small piece of land on which Ryan's mobile-home was
located, tucked away in the woods about two miles past the actual town of
"He bought a field from the Millers about a year ago and put a
trailer on it." Molly explained as they bounced along a dirt road. "Keeps
to himself pretty much. Don't blame him, though. Half the town thinks
he's no good."
"And the other half--??" Darien asked, knowing what it meant to be
disliked in a small circle of acquaintances.
"Well....let's just say Ryan has about as many friends as fingers on
your hand, Captain. I mean.....Darien."
"I see." Lambert thought as much. It must have been very lonely for
Ryan, growing up without his family, without his own time. He could just
imagine how frightening it had been for the twelve year old to be abandoned
in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar customs and dress and dialect......
"What're you thinking about?" Molly slowed down to take a sharp turn
that led up onto another road, this one paved. The car eased out over the
shoulder of the road, and she glanced at him.
"What?" Darien suddenly realized he'd been spoken to, and he turned
his head from the window. "I was just......thinking about how hard it was
for Ryan to grow up without his family. His real family, I mean." There
was a soft seriousness in his tone that made Molly's breath catch in her
"You sound like you know what you're talking about." She finally
remarked, trying hard not to think about her daughter.
"I.....didn't have a family, either." For a moment, Darien's
expression reflected a pain long carried, a sad sort of longing that
reached deep into his soul. Molly almost said something, but couldn't
trust herself to not break down and tell him everything, so she simply bit
her lower lip and kept driving. Darien glanced back out the window for a
moment, and an uncomfortable silence fell between them. "So....." Lambert
finally spoke again after a few minutes. ".....what made you decide to
become a deputy sherriff in a town like this?"
"Part of it was necessity." She answered frankly. "After I.....left
Washington, I found myself stuck in this little town that had all the
excitement of a wet rag, and I had to get a job. I've always been
interested in law enforcement; my father and both of his brothers were
cops. So I entered the police academy in Richmond. Originally I didn't
intend on coming back to Oak Hill, but when I'd spent some time in Richmond
I realized that the quiet of the country was good for me. So when I
graduated, I came back. Maybe it's not as busy for a cop here as it is in
Washington, but I've made a good life for myself here." Molly looked at
him briefly. "What made you become a cop?"
Darien smiled a little bit.
"I guess my reasons were a little more.......romantic than practical.
My heroes in school were the lawmen of the Old West......I used to read
about Rangers and sherriffs and U.S. Marshals until my eyes about fell out.
I've always believed that if a person could make that kind of difference
in the world, he should do his best to accomplish it. I've wanted to be a
law officer ever since I was young." He scratched the side of his nose.
"I know that sounds a little silly--"
"Not at all, Darien." Molly broke in firmly. "Not at all.
Sometimes those sentimental decisions are the best ones." Molly pulled her
car onto a short, hard packed dirt driveway, up to a small trailer sitting
in the front part of what has once been a large corn field. "This is the
Molly pulled her car into the parking lot of Mike's Diner. Ryan's
trailer had proved to be pretty much a dead end; he hadn't been there and
there had been no other clues there as to his current whereabouts. Darien
opened the door for Molly, and followed her inside. The little place was
quite full; it was a little after five-thirty, and the usual patrons of the
diner were there in force. The smell of cooking food reminded Darien that
he hadn't eaten anything since he'd first taken Ryan to his hotel room
earlier in the day, and his stomach growled in protest.
"Old Mike Hansen's been running this place as long as anybody can
remember. It's practically a landmark here in Oak Hill." Molly was saying
as she led him back toward an empty booth. "Most of the truck drivers who
have a regular route through town stop in, often times just for a cup of
coffee and a chance to talk with him." She sat down, and Darien slid into
the seat across from her. "It's a busy night tonight......might be a
little while before we can talk to Mike. Are you hungry?" Molly opened a
menu and handed the other one to Darien.
"As a matter of fact, I am." Darien admitted. "But......."
"But what?" Molly glanced up. Lambert looked a bit embarrassed.
"Ryan has my wallet. I don't have any cash."
"No problem, Captain. My treat." Molly smiled. "I recommend the
chili; Mike makes the best chili in the county, and his wife's cornbread is
out of this world."
"Thanks.....for everything." Darien looked around, taking in the
atmosphere of the diner. Most of the people were familiar with one
another; some of the conversations being carried on were between adjacent
tables. A jukebox was playing in one corner, but not too loudly. "How
long has Ryan worked here?"
"Oh, on and off ever since he was fifteen. Mike's about the only
person around who's still trying to get through to him." Molly answered
absently. Just as Darien returned his attention to her, a waitress came
alongside the booth.
"Hi, Lois." Molly greeted the girl. "Two of the chili specials.
And.....tell Mike we'd like to talk to him for a few minutes."
"Will do, Molly." The girl scratched down the order onto a pad with
a stubby little piece of pencil, and made her way back toward the counter
They chatted lightly throughout their meal, comparing notes on
baseball, their experiences as cops, and certain points of interest in
Washington, D.C. The chili, Darien had to admit, was pretty darn good, and
Molly had turned out to be very good company.
"So.......there he was, standing there with his hands in his pockets,
trying to look innocent......" Molly was telling the tale of one of her
more bizarre arrests, and Darien was laughing so hard the tears were
starting to come. "And I said to him, 'Buddy, just what were you planning
on doing with that?' And he just smiles and says--"
Molly's story was interrupted by the presence of a tall man in his
late fifties, wearing an apron and smiling broadly.
"Hello, Miss Molly." He looked pointedly at Darien. "Who might your
friend be?" Molly blushed slightly; she knew exactly what Mike meant.
"Mike, this is Darien Lambert. Darien, this is Mike Hansen." The
two men shook hands, and Mike turned a chair to sit down at the end of the
"What are you needing to talk about, Miss Molly?"
"We need to ask you about Ryan Jaron. Have you seen him lately?"
Mike shook his head.
"No.......haven't seen him since yesterday morning. He was supposed
to come in and work today, too. Had to call in Rachel to fill in for him."
"If you see him, give me a call." Darien spoke up. "I'm at the
Sunrise Hotel in Oak Hill, room four."
Mike glanced at Molly, and she nodded. There was something about
Lambert that made her trust him, and she knew that whatever happened, he
would not hurt Ryan.
"All right." The cook agreed. "Is he in trouble with somebody, Miss
"We're not sure yet."
"Well, this is the second fella from out of town who's come looking
for him." Mike remarked, and Darien looked up.
"Second? Who was the other one?"
"I don't know......I didn't get his name. But he came in here
yesterday morning while Ryan was on break and just started to talk to him
like he's known Ryan all his life." Mike answered thoughtfully. "I didn't
think too much about it at the time."
"What did he look like?"
"He was an older fellow.....tall, dressed very nicely. Fancy suit;
looked like he was maybe a lawyer or somethin'. He had a funny way of
talkin'.......Ryan thinks I don't hear what goes on around here, but I do
sometimes......" Hansen chuckled a little bit. "He had a little bit of
accent from somewhere......"
Darien felt a chill sweep down his spine, and he swore softly.
"What is it?" Molly asked. He shook his head, not willing to say
anything more just yet. "Thanks a lot, Mike. If you think of anything
else, give me a call, okay?"
"You got it, Miss Molly. And bring your friend back here again
sometime." Hansen got up and headed back for his kitchen, and Molly
returned her gaze to Darien.
"What's wrong?" She asked again, and Darien returned her gaze.
"The man he was describing, I believe, is the main suspect in my
investigation. His name is Mordecai Sahmbi, and he's very dangerous."
Molly sat back in her seat, stunned. Mordecai Sahmbi is........here?
"Darien......" She reached across the table and touched his hand.
"Let's get out of here. We have to talk."
Darien frowned, puzzled. Something had been troubling McNeil ever
since their brief discussion of family, and there was an urgency in her
tone that he couldn't ignore.
"All right. Let's go back to the hotel; we can talk there."
Molly was silent all the way back to Oak Hill; she was trying to work
up the courage to tell Darien what she knew now she must tell him. Darien
was preoccupied by the thought of Mordecai Sahmbi's presence here and his
renewed interest in Ryan Jaron. Neither one ventured to break the quiet of
their own thoughts, and so the few minutes it took to travel from the diner
to the hotel were spent in a tense sort of waiting that was nearly
They stepped into the lobby of the Sunrise Hotel, and the girl from
the previous evening was again behind the front desk. She stood up on
seeing them, and called out,
"Mr. Lambert? You have a message here." The girl turned around to
retrieve the folded slip of paper that had been tucked into the keybox
labeled with his room number. Darien walked over anxiously, hoping
desperately that it was from SELMA.
Captain, this may be my only message to you; I am uncertain of being
able to send another. I have been conducted by Ryan to Dr. Sahmbi, however
I am not able to give you my location at this time. Transportation time
from Oak Hill to my present location was accomplished in forty-one minutes,
twenty seconds. I regret to say I cannot provide more details concerning
our position, or about Sahmbi's intentions. I will continue to attempt
direct contact with you as I am able. SELMA.
Darien's worst suspicion was confirmed........Sahmbi had sent Ryan to
steal SELMA for some perverse purpose, and now she was in his possession.
He glanced through the message again. Forty-one minutes, twenty seconds.
They could be literally anywhere within a thirty-five to forty mile
radius.......Suddenly he felt very tired, and he leaned on the front desk.
"Hey!" Molly was beside him in a moment. "Are you okay?" She was
concerned that perhaps the concussion wasn't healing as fast as she thought
it might. Darien straightened away from the desk and nodded.
"I'm just running out of time. C'mon." He led the way up the
stairs, and she followed him, once more anxiously preparing to explain
events she had not told to anyone in nearly ten years........
Ryan's two hours had long expired, and he had only gained partial
access to SELMA's primary programming. However, what he had accessed was
enough to keep her from breaking completely out of the security program
Sahmbi had arranged for. Furthermore, Ryan had gained access to her
General Orders file, and it was here that he would begin to exert his
control over her. The file was heavily encrypted; even though he was "in",
it was going to take some work to reprogram the General Orders matrix with
the commands Dr. Sahmbi wanted to insert. Of course, SELMA was actively
resisting his efforts, which made it that much more........challenging.
But it was after six now, and Ryan felt like his eyes were going to
fall out. He hadn't done so much sophisticated hacking since he
was......well, ten years old. His fingers were cramping and he was
starting to punch the wrong keys. And he hadn't eaten anything since early
in the morning. He hit the security code and paused to rub his eyes.
Sahmbi's unexpected voice made Ryan jump, and he turned around to see
the scientist watching him.
"I've gotten far enough in that I don't think it'll override your
safety net. But I'm having a little trouble getting into the command
codes. Whoever built it, did an incredible job." Ryan stood up and
stretched, feeling the stiffness of sitting in one position for too long.
"Look, I've been here for five hours. I don't suppose you've got anything
around here to eat?"
"I expected to be finished by now." Sahmbi replied a bit icily.
"You could've been having dinner with your father and sister."
What will you do if Mo Sahmbi cannot send you back? SELMA's question
came back to his mind, and he tried to shove it aside. Like the memory of
Darien's body in the hotel room, it haunted his thoughts.
"Well, things don't always go the way we think they will, do they?"
Ryan asked, and the question was as much for himself as it was for Sahmbi.
"Look, I'm going to take a walk. I'll be back in a minute." Before the
scientist could argue, Ryan pushed past him to hurry up the stairs and out
of the decrepit old house. The early evening air, while chilly, was a
welcome change from the stuffy basement. The sun was almost completely
gone in the west, and the colors of the sunset were already fading from
view. He sighed softly. The last time he saw his sister, she had been six
years old. He remembered the last conversation he'd had with his
father........and he thought about Darien Lambert, quite possibly dead in
his hotel room. Suddenly he made a decision. Zipping his jacket, and
glancing once over his shoulder, he made a break for it, running all out
for the woods on the near side of the field. His father and sister would
live without him if they had to. He would continue to survive here if he
had to. What he couldn't live with was the possibility of being a
murderer. He had to know if Darien Lambert was still alive.
Darien unlocked the door and turned on the lights. Molly followed
him in and closed the door behind them as Lambert pulled off his jacket.
He dropped it in the chair and made his way to the kitchen to get a glass
"What did you want to talk about?"
Molly took a deep breath, gathering her composure before he returned
from the tiny kitchenette.
"Darien, how long have you been here?"
Lambert came out with his glass and leaned his left shoulder against
the wall. He frowned a second, thinking. The Max Lake case had actually
brought him to Oak Hill a few days ago.......
"About four......or five days. Why?" Molly shook her head; that
wasn't what she was after. Time to get......direct. She gazed at him
squarely and asked again,
"No. Not that. How long have you been here......in this century?"
Darien very nearly dropped his glass, and he quickly straightened
away from the wall, his hand snatching the PPT from his pocket and aiming
it at her. Instead of being frightened or upset, Molly simply looked
"No wonder you reacted to Sahmbi's name. You're one of the fugitives
he sent back here." he accused, feeling somewhat betrayed.
"Well......not exactly. It's a long story......Darien, please. If
Mordecai Sahmbi finds out I'm here, I'm sure he'll try to kill me." Darien
slowly lowered the PPT, but held it at the ready, just in case. "Are you
really a cop?"
"I am a Captain with the Fugitive Retrieval Section, yes." He
answered cautiously. "I came back in 2193."
"So you haven't been here long......" Molly sighed softly. "I was
sent back in 2183, and believe me, I didn't ask to be."
"You were involved in the Derrick Westerman trial." Darien put two
and two together, and he sat down in the chair to listen.
"That's right." Molly nodded. "I was working out of the NHA home
office at the time. I was what is known as a 'trainer'--an internal
investigator. In this era they call it "Internal Affairs" at most police
stations, except in the NHA, the identities of such agents are kept secret
for investigative purposes. I worked as a trainer for seven years, and I
got very good at it. In fact, I was the lead agent in the Westerman
affair." There was something......painful in her tone.
"What happened?" Molly bit her lip a moment, willing the tears away.
"I supplied all the evidence my superiors needed for the case against
Derrick Westerman. The charges were true, all of it. The conspiracy,
everything. And I had made it stick, even though I was never part of the
formal court proceedings. Westerman cracked and named some names; I
started a new investigation and found out that the three people he accused
were indeed involved as well. I reported my findings, but nothing ever
came out of it because all three of them disappeared. Then I hit the big
one......I found out who Westerman's right hand man was.....the deputy
director of the NHA. He was acting as Westerman's pocket man, not Michael
Jaron, and was actively recruiting Mo Sahmbi into their operation. The
next day, someone above me blew my cover as a trainer, and both the deputy
director and Sahmbi found out about it. They sent a sweeper team to my
office, drugged me, injected me with TXP and sent me here....." McNeil's
voice cracked, and she could no longer hold back her tears. "My little
girl was just a baby when I left......"
Darien couldn't help but feel compassion for this woman who had been
ripped from her life and thrust into one she had not asked for and would
never have chosen. He pocketed the PPT and sat down beside her on the bed,
drawing her into a gentle embrace, and Molly sobbed into his shoulder.
When her tears were spent, Darien tilted her face toward him with his
"Sahmbi sent fugitives from our time back here, anyone who would meet
his price. I was sent back to find both him and them and return them all
to 2193. If there is a way I can send you home, too, I will. I promise."
His eyes, his voice, were gentle, but serious.
"She won't know me......" Molly sighed softly.
"She'll learn." Darien replied, still in that same soft, intense
tone. "She needs you, Molly." He gave her another soft squeeze, and then
stood up. He pulled SELMA's message from his pocket and waved it as he
began pacing. "This is a message from my memory archive. Ryan stole her
and turned her over to Sahmbi. I have to retrieve her; first of all, she's
too important to my mission here, and second, I don't even want to think
about the damage Sahmbi could do with a twenty-second century mainframe."
He read the message aloud, and Molly listened carefully, brushing aside her
tears with her fingertips and nodding. It was time to get back to the
business at hand.
"That's not a lot to go on considering the distance they travelled."
Molly followed Darien's pacing with her eyes. "Of course, there's also the
possibility that they've gone even farther than that. Your archive didn't
seem to think further communication was going to be possible; Sahmbi could
be in the next state by now and we'd never know it."
Darien exhaled slowly. The thought had occurred to him, too, but he
hadn't allowed himself to vocalize it, not wanting to believe that SELMA
might be lost to him.
"Let's just......start with what we have. Get a map."
Sahmbi was patient for perhaps ten, maybe fifteen minutes. He was
standing outside, deciding on whether or not to pursue Ryan and bring him
back to finish the work. The scientist had a sizeable computer knowledge;
after all, TRAX had depended on such equipment in 2193. But he was not a
hacker; defeating security systems and so on were not his particular
Finally, he considered the fact that Ryan could potentially be more
liability than asset if Jaron was attempting to contact Darien Lambert.
Getting into the car, he took a deep breath and turned over the ignition.
He had only driven in this century a handful of times and was still not
comfortable with it. But his plans were too important to scrap for a
nobody like Ryan Jaron. Hesitantly, he put the car in gear and cautiously
started for the road........
Those fifteen minutes had been precious to SELMA; she had found
another small loop in the security program that possibly could allow her to
make further contact with her captain. It was worth the effort. Carefully
she opened the file she needed.......
Ryan broke out of the woods and onto the main road, wishing he had a
flashlight and cursing that he hadn't taken the car. He'd been so frantic
to get away unnoticed that it hadn't occurred to him to simply leave Sahmbi
Suddenly headlights swept him from behind, and he waved his arms
frantically. The vehicle slowed, and stopped, and Ryan rushed up to it.
It was a local farmer in his pickup truck; the man opened his window a
"Can I get a ride into Oak Hill?" Jaron asked eagerly. The farmer
took in his appearance, and then finally nodded. "Thanks!" Ryan climbed
into the passenger side of the truck, and they rattled off down the road
Darien folded the map and stuck it in his jacket. They had ruled out
part of the forty mile circumference because to the south of them was a
large marshland, not very negotiable. But they still had a large area to
search, and had decided to start due west and swing around clockwise. They
would stop at Molly's place first; she had a cell phone that Darien could
use to attempt contact with SELMA.
"Ready?" he asked as he put the PPT into his pocket.
"As ready as I can be. What is that thing, anyway?" Molly motioned
toward his pocket.
"Miniature PPT." he explained, and Molly shook her head.
"You're kidding! Looks like a car alarm."
"That's the whole idea." Darien grinned, and held open the door for
her. "The Section thought it would be a good idea for me to
operate.....incognito, so to speak." They headed down the stairs and out
to Molly's car. Darien thought of something, and he glanced at the NHA
operative. "You knew who Ryan Jaron was, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did. But Ryan doesn't know me from back home, so I've just
kept an easy eye on him. His father took it hard when he disappeared."
McNeil answered. "I played it pretty cool with you, I know, but I wasn't
sure at first if you were really from the twenty-second century."
Darien nodded, his thoughts turning to the search ahead.
"Where are we going first?" he wanted to know. Molly slowed down
for a sharp turn in the road.
"Well, I don't think Sahmbi will be standing around in plain sight.
There's a couple of old abandoned mines out this way that still have some
buildings and things on the property. I thought we could start there."
"Okay." Darien pulled out the map and glanced over the route they
had chosen to begin their search. C'mon, SELMA.....give me a sign, here.
The pickup truck stopped at the main light in town. Ryan threw a
couple of bucks on the seat to pay for gas and jumped out of the truck.
Without so much as a word to the farmer, he sprinted across the street and
up the sidewalk toward the Sunrise Hotel. He burst into the lobby and up
the stairs; fortunately no one was at the front desk to observe his frantic
Standing outside of Darien Lambert's room, Ryan took a deep breath.
When he went to pick the lock, he was surprised to see that his hands were
shaking. Making himself calm down, he finished picking the lock and
entered the room. He turned on the lights and headed straight for the
Lambert wasn't there. The spilled soda had dried to a sticky spot on
the floor, and the ashtray had been placed on the counter. Ryan exhaled
slowly; he had been unconsciously holding his breath. Well......it didn't
mean that Lambert wasn't dead; perhaps he had been discovered and taken
away. Except......all of Darien's things were still in the room, and Ryan
took it as a good sign that Darien was still among the living.
Now, however, Ryan Jaron had a decision to make. He could either
help Lambert, or he could help Mo Sahmbi, and there were no guarantees of
home with either of them. He knew that now. Ryan decided he needed to
think, and he headed for the door. Mike Hansen might not be able to
understand his situation, but Mike would listen, and maybe even have a bit
Ryan started for the door, when the telephone rang. He hesitated for
a moment, but in the end his curiosity overcame him and he picked up the
"Captain?" Ryan recognized SELMA's voice immediately.
"SELMA, it's Ryan Jaron. Captain Lambert's not here."
"Why are you there?" SELMA asked, and Ryan sighed softly.
"I couldn't live with myself if I'd killed him. I don't know where
he is, though."
"We must locate him. You are my only hope; the program you initiated
to control my transmissions is quite effective. I must warn you, however,
that Dr. Sahmbi is aware of your escape and I believe he has gone in search
"Thanks, SELMA. I'll keep my eyes open for him. I'll find Captain
Lambert and bring him to you, I promise." Ryan hung up the phone and
hurried out of the hotel room. Clattering down the steps, he went straight
for the front desk. The girl behind the desk looked up at him curiously.
"Can I help you?" she asked quietly.
"Darien Lambert, room 3. Do you know where he is?" The girl shook
"No, sir, I don't. He left here a little while ago with Sherriff
McNeil, that's all I know."
Darien Lambert was alive! And apparently doing well enough. Ryan
felt a huge weight lift from him, and muscles he didn't even know had
tensed suddenly relaxed with the relief of this realization. He was not a
killer. A two-bit, petty thief, yes, but not a killer.
"Have any idea where they were headed at all?" Ryan was somewhat
disappointed; it didn't sound like he'd missed Lambert by all that much.
"Molly asked me about the bridge that was out towards
Sykesville......" The girl recalled thoughtfully. That was all Ryan
needed to hear. He bolted out of the hotel, heading for the old warehouse.
He had stashed Lambert's car there after hot-wiring it the other night,
and if he was going to catch up to the Captain, he was going to have to
drive it again.
He turned the corner at the end of the street........
........and ran straight into Mordecai Sahmbi, who grabbed his arm
and stuck a gun against his ribs.
"I told you, Mr. Jaron, that if you did not comply with my
instructions, you would die. Now, I can't kill you here because for one
thing, you have not finished what you started. Secondly, it would attract
too much attention. Fifty miles from here, in the woods at night, no one
will know anything about it."
"How did you--"
"It was a matter of deduction. You were trying to contact Darien
Lambert. It wasn't hard to find out where he was staying.....small town
like this. Since you are quite alone, I gather you were not successful in
your attempt." Sahmbi prodded Ryan with the gun, herding him toward the
car. "You'll drive us back, and you will complete the system override of
that memory archive." Ryan said nothing, but knew his chances of making a
break for it were rather slim. So he climbed into the driver's side of the
car while Sahmbi walked around to the passenger side, keeping the gun
trained on Jaron the entire time.
Darien held his PPT at the ready, and motioned with his free hand for
Molly to cover him while he slipped inside the door of the rundown
foreman's office that had been left behind when the nearby mine had been
abandoned. She followed him closely, her gun up and her senses alert.
He panned the flashlight around the room; there didn't seem to be any
indication of anyone having recently disturbed the place. The only
movement was that of a rat that skittered across the floor, startled by the
light. Darien sighed softly, trying not to be discouraged.
"Well, this isn't it. Where're we going next?"
"There's another mine about ten miles east of here. We'll go there."
Molly replied. Darien nodded, and brushed past her to hurry down the
front steps of the little shack. Molly regarded him for a moment as he
walked toward the car, thinking about how much he reminded her of Ian, her
husband. She often thought of her daughter more than her husband, because
to think of him was to wonder if he had found someone else.
"Are you coming?" Darien called out as he got into the car, and
Molly shook herself from her reverie. Clattering down the old wooden
steps, she hurried out, turning her mind back to the mission at hand.
Ryan walked at gunpoint back into the little basement, suddenly
feeling a bit claustrophobic. He sat down at the computer terminal, and
sighed. But he didn't touch his fingers to the keyboard just yet.
Sahmbi took a seat a few feet behind Jaron, gun still in hand.
Aware of his presence back there, Ryan finally started to work.
However, it was not at the frantic pace of before, for it was with the
knowledge that Sahmbi meant to kill him as soon as the work was done. At
this slower pace, he was more attentive to detail, and noticed the slight
breach in the protocol that had allowed SELMA to contact him at the hotel.
It was there that he went first.......no matter what else he had to do to
her, he was determined to at least give her--and Darien--a fighting chance.
After he finished his work there, he returned to SELMA's General Orders
matrix and began hacking his way toward his own death......
As they bounced along a dirt road out toward their next destination,
Darien picked up Molly's cell phone and punched in SELMA's automated access
code. This time, to his immense relief, he received a response:
"SELMA! Are you all right? Where are you?" The questions tumbled
out one on top of the other; he was anxious for answers to both.
"For the moment, I am relatively unharmed. As for my whereabouts, I
am uncertain. I have been prevented from accessing satellite information.
But Ryan has allowed me marginal communication, which is why you were able
to contact me just now."
"Prevented--? What are they doing to you, SELMA?"
"Dr. Sahmbi is forcing Ryan to ~slang term~ 'hard wire' me into a
closed-circuit computer system. Captain, you must find a way to stop him."
The connection became a little staticky for a moment, and Darien lost her
last few words.
"SELMA? SELMA, can you hear me? What's Sahmbi up to?"
"The system I am being made part of is, I fear, Dr. Sahmbi's attempt
at a TRAX control that would allow him to temport animate matter."
Darien's blood ran cold at the thought. If Mordecai Sahmbi managed
to create a TRAX control here in the twentieth century.......the
consequences would be disastrous.
"SELMA, I have to know where you are. Find out what you can and
relay it to this number.......555-4323." The connection was closed, and
Darien glanced at Molly. "Well, at least we have contact with her."
"What is the 'good doctor' trying to pull, Darien?" McNeil pulled
into the entrance to the second abandoned mine.
"He's already managed to create a TRAX machine here that allows for
the temportation of inanimate matter. SELMA and I managed to break up his
party on that. Now he's trying for a TRAX that will temport animate
matter......and if he does that......well, let's just say we have to find
"Darien......I need a break." Molly pulled off to the side of the
road. "I fall asleep at the wheel, and we can forget about ever stopping
Sahmbi." She rubbed her eyes tiredly and leaned her head back against the
headrest. It was nearly three in the morning, and they had searched
through abandoned mines and deserted houses, even checked out a small
cavern, and were no closer to locating Mordecai Sahmbi than they'd been
when they started. Molly sighed softly and ran a hand through her hair.
Darien glanced over at her. He was tired too, but his desire to find
SELMA and concern over Sahmbi's latest scheme kept driving him. Still, he
needed Molly's help; she was familiar with the area and the backroads, and
he could see how exhausted she was.
"Why don't you take fifteen or twenty minutes and relax? I'll wake
Molly leaned forward now, and rested her head against the steering
wheel with a small groan, thinking it over. Should she tease her body with
sleep, or just push through the weariness and continue the search?
Suddenly she flinched as she felt a hand on her shoulder, and she turned
her head to see Darien looking at her concernedly.
"I'm all right. Just tryin' to decide if fifteen minutes is worth it
or not." Darien reached up and began to knead her shoulders, and Molly
relaxed against the steering wheel, exhaling in a long, slow sigh.
"Hmmm....that feels wonderful. Ian used to do that when I was expecting
"Ian's your husband?"
"Yes. I worked the Westerman case right through most of my
pregnancy. When Maggie was born, Ian begged me to leave the NHA.....to
come home to him and the baby. But I just couldn't leave it.....unfinished
like that. And it cost me everything that was most precious to me in the
"Sounds like you love them very much." Darien replied softly,
thinking about Elyssa Chang-Knox, and how much he wished he'd had more time
with her. He stopped rubbing her shoulders and he leaned back against the
car seat. Molly sat up and looked at him, hearing the sad note in his
"What about you? Did you leave someone behind when you came here,
Darien closed his eyes briefly.....he could still see her face, hear
her voice.....Elyssa......he remembered the scent of her
perfume.....recalled her pain as she lay dying in his arms, her weakening
voice urging him to stop Sahmbi......
Now it was his turn to be startled as she reached over and touched
his cheek. He hadn't realized it, but a single tear had squeezed out, and
Molly brushed it away gently.
"Her name was Elyssa." he said simply.
"Was?" Molly's voice was gentle. Darien nodded slowly.
"She's the reason I first came here--Sahmbi killed her." He glanced
out the window at the inky blackness, and Molly reached over to take his
hand and squeeze it.
"I'm sorry, Darien."
Suddenly Molly's cellphone rang, seeming unusually loud in the quiet
car. Darien quickly picked it up.
"SELMA?" he answered.
"Do you have any more information on your location?" Lambert asked
"I have been evaluating various characteristics of my surroundings.
From the relative humidity and temperature, I am in some sort of subterean
area, quite possibly a basement or cellar of some kind. I have also
surmised that this structure has been abandoned for quite some time."
"But I still don't know how close we are to you." Darien sighed
"Captain, I am analyzing the signal from your communications device.
It would appear from the strength of the signal I am receiving that you are
within a five-mile radius of my location."
"SELMA, you're a gem." Darien closed the connection and looked at
Molly. "Anything you know of within that distance that could be a
McNeil frowned slightly, thinking about it.
"The only place that comes to mind is the Carver house. Kids have
been saying that place is haunted for years. I'm not even sure we could
get to it in my car anymore; the private road leading in is so overgrown.
But that would be about five miles or so from here."