Ray, Gaby, Gunn, Alcott, Lorent, and TransGenics are mine.
Rated PG-13 : Mild sexuality; harsh language, strong violence.
Last chapter of this story, hope you liked it. As always, my thanks to everyone who reviewed. Special thanks to Jenny and Cecelia for beta reading and constructive criticism.
In the next story, 'Time Over', the last part of the trilogy, Jen awakens in a not-so-brave new world... Wes and Eric face enemies from past and future... An old love returns, a new romance begins...
"Here he is."
"Thanks." Eric waited for the guard to leave. He was in Silver Hills Hospital, in a specially guarded room. Ray Pettis sat on the bed, not looking very sick, but Eric knew his condition was serious, and getting worse. He had refused treatment, and refused to talk to anyone. This was a last effort. He stood, watching, leaving it to Ray to speak first.
"What are you doing here? Come to stare at me in my cage?"
"No. I'm trying to help you."
"Everyone keeps saying stuff like that. You could help by getting me out of here."
"I'm afraid that's not going to happen. At least not yet."
"Yeah." Ray looked away gloomily.
"You feel sick now, don't you?"
"I don't think you are. The mutating treatment is killing you. You need help. Now."
"I don't believe you."
"You're weaker, aren't you? Not as fast? And starting to have some pain?"
"Maybe." Ray's voice was soft and unwilling.
"Alcott did this to you. You're smart enough to know that by now. He used you."
"Yes. You know it's true."
Ray looked up. "I heard him and Lorent talking a couple of times. About DNA. Genetic instability. I didn't know what it meant."
"I hear you've been reading up on medicine and genetics. You have a good idea what it means now, don't you?"
Ray turned his head, his face angry and miserable. "He was nice to me. Just about the only person who's ever been nice to me. I can't believe he did this."
Eric sat on the chair next to the bed. "There are people who want to help you. For real. Let us do it."
Ray stared at him. "Why should you care?"
Eric smiled slightly. "Maybe you tried to help me out once, in another life. Maybe you remind me of myself, a little."
"Is there still time, to cure me?"
"According to the doctors, yes. If we start treatment now."
"And what if I still won't tell you about Alcott and Lorent? Won't testify or anything?"
"We'll help you anyway. There's no conditions."
Ray looked down at the floor for a long moment. "Okay. I'll take the treatment. And I'll tell you whatever you want to know. But I want to talk to you."
Eric smiled and stood up. "Good. I'll let the doctors know. And I'll be here to talk to you, whenever you want."
Ray's voice stopped him at the door. "Will I go to jail?"
Eric turned back. "Maybe, for a while. Not for long. You're really the victim here. And Bio-Lab and I will do whatever we can for you." With a smile he added, "I know some sisters who'd like to meet you. Alcott worked them over, too. You have a lot in common."
"Are they pretty?"
"Very pretty. You'll like them. I've got to go now, and make some arrangements, but I'll be back. See ya."
"Yeah." Ray smiled. "Thanks."
Wes thought it was like deja vu. A beautiful day on the beach north of Silver Hills. His friends shaking hands with Eric, with Katie giving him one of her patented bone-crushing hugs, then lining up to say goodbye to his father. Their timeship waiting for them. The same misery he had felt over a year ago, when they left for home. Of course, things were a little different. Alex was with them, and Jen…
She had stayed at the house, in his room, just like the last time. He had wondered if that would be a mistake, for both of them, but he wouldn't trade a moment of their time together. He closed his eyes. They had lived every minute with desperate intensity, adding to their store of memories. Soon memories would be all they had left.
The others, especially Eric, had kept busy in the last ten days. Ray had started to talk, implicating Alcott and Lorent in illegal human experimentation. They had given him the serum in time to save his life, although he had lost some of his strength and speed. He seemed to be keeping his increased intelligence and enhanced senses, however. The sisters had also decided to come forward and testify.
Once Ray talked, many of the men they had captured did the same. With the evidence they provided, the Guardians and the Silver City police had gotten a warrant to invade TransGenics' secret laboratory complex. They had found it deserted, but enough evidence of illegal activities had been left behind to give TransGenics a severe headache of their own for the foreseeable future.
But now their time was up. Wes smiled as Lucas and Trip walked up to him.
"It was great to see you guys again."
"Yeah," Lucas said. "Too bad the circumstances weren't better. Thanks for everything."
"I should thank you." Wes and Lucas hugged briefly, then Lucas patted him on the shoulder and stepped back.
"Trip. Say hello to Circuit for me."
Trip smiled. "I redesigned him. Now he looks like a clock tower. Sort of to remind us."
"Really? Too bad I didn't get to see him."
"Yeah. Take care of yourself, Wes."
"And you." They hugged, before Trip turned to join Lucas.
Katie came toward them, with Lorent in custody. Lucas and Trip took him from her and, with a last wave, disappeared into the ship.
Katie faced Wes. "Willing to risk another hug?" she asked.
"Of course." They embraced, Katie holding back enough to not cause actual pain.
"I'll miss you, Wes. It's been great seeing you again."
"I'll miss you, too. All of you."
She smiled and walked to the ship, going through the door after a last look.
Alex and Jen were waiting. They came up to him, Alex's face firmly controlled, tears just under the surface of Jen's. She hung back as Alex shook hands with Wes.
"Listen, I'm sorry for what I said. About wishing you stayed dead. You were right, I was pretty childish."
Alex smiled, just a little. "I can easily imagine how I'd feel in your place. I don't know if I would have handled it any better. Maybe worse."
Wes met his eyes. "I doubt that. You were right, too, that you're the one who should be angry at me. I'm sorry about what happened, Jen and you breaking up. I guess you're right to blame me."
"Maybe I did blame you, at first. But both Jen and I changed, that year she was in your time. I guess it wasn't meant to be. To tell the truth, knowing it's finally over is a relief. But I'm sorry things can't work out for you and her."
"I appreciate that." Wes looked at Jen. "I hope you'll still be her friend."
"Always. Goodbye, Wes, and thanks for your help." Alex stepped back with a final smile, glanced at Jen and walked to the ship, going inside.
Jen moved up to him. They looked at each other for a long moment before he spoke.
"Goodbye, Jen. I hope you get all those things you want. I mean it."
"Thanks. I want the same for you. A good life. I hope someday you'll meet someone who'll love you as much as I do."
Wes's heart told him there would never be anyone else. But he said only, "I hope so."
"I love you. Always will. I wish I could stay with you."
"Then stay. You could just stay here. The hell with the timestream."
She took his hands. "You know I can't. Time Force would only bring me back. I only wish I knew that you'll be happy."
He forced a smile. "Don't worry. I'll be fine."
Jen looked into his face intently. "Wes, be careful. Lorent and his friends in our time were trying to change history by attacking you and Eric. Whoever was working with him may try again."
Wes frowned. "I hadn't thought of that. But you're right. You guys need to be careful, too."
"That's our job." She looked past him, at the timeship, and sighed. "I have to go now."
They hugged tightly, kissed and held each other until Wes let go and stepped back. Their hands reached out and squeezed briefly. Jen stood for another moment, just looking, the tears starting, before she turned and ran for the ship. Wes watched her go, the urge to catch her and stop her almost overwhelming. Then he felt only numbness as the door closed behind her.
He saw his father and Eric come up beside him as the ship sent a beam into the sky and the timehole opened. They stood with him, watching it lift off, circle above them, and fly away, disappearing a moment later. His father's arm gripped his shoulders in silent support before they all turned to leave.
"What was my funeral like?" Eric asked, smiling at how strange the question sounded.
They were in the Bio-Lab lunchroom again, at their usual table. It had been two days since the other Rangers had returned home, and Wes, after a day of obvious depression, seemed almost back to normal. Eric had a lot of questions saved up for him.
"It was nice. Like I told you."
"Who showed up for it?"
"Half of Bio-Lab. And your neighbors. And Emma came. And Trip and Lucas."
"Really? Did your father come?"
"Of course. Jesus, what do you think?"
"Yes. She looked like she was crying."
"Yeah?" Eric smiled again, pleased. "How about Miller?"
"He was there."
"How many people, do you think?"
"Christ, I don't know. Lots." He stared at Eric. "Did you think no one would show up? No one would care that you died?"
"Well..." Eric sighed. "Over a year ago -- at Commander Porter's funeral -- I remember thinking that if I died, no one would even notice, except for having to get rid of the body."
Wes smiled. "That's sure not true now. A lot of people noticed."
Eric avoided his eyes, feeling a little overwhelmed by the idea that he might be important to the people who knew him. "Yeah, well, maybe," he said uncomfortably. "What happened to my birds?"
"Your neighbors took them. Their little girl seemed to like them."
"Good. Did I get a eulogy?"
"Yes, of course you got a eulogy."
"Who gave it?"
"I did, and my dad, and Steve."
"I hope you said something nice."
"Don't worry, we all lied."
"I wish I could have been there."
"You were. But you were dead."
"Must have made it hard to appreciate it. Who paid for everything?"
"Bio-Lab. You died in the line of duty, after all."
"Yeah. I hope it wasn't cheap."
Wes grinned. "Now you don't want cheap. We spared no expense. My dad insisted on it."
"That was nice of him." He took another bite of his lunch. "Tell me how I died."
"It's not the most pleasant thing to remember."
"If you don't want to, it's okay."
"No. Probably do me good to talk about it. Anyway, it never happened, now, so I guess it shouldn't bother me."
"So go on."
"They had you hooked up to a machine. I showed it to you."
"Yeah, I remember."
"Trip said it was sort of like the device that T-Gen used on me. Except it didn't cause violent behavior, it destroyed the brain slowly, and affected the mind. It was meant to break a person down to the point that they would do whatever anyone wanted them to. But it usually killed them in the process."
"And it made me release the morpher's voice lock." Eric frowned, his appetite receding.
"Wasn't your fault. You were almost dead when you did it."
"Still. Giving that morpher to someone like Lorent -- I should have died first."
"You probably didn't know what you were doing."
"Steve found you still strapped into that chair. We carried you out and you died a few minutes later."
"Did I say anything?"
"You… said a couple of things. Pretty incoherent, mostly. You said you were cold. Asked me not to go away." Wes stopped, his face showing the pain of that memory. Then he went on, his eyes on Eric's face. "You called me 'brother'."
Wes smiled. "You sure did."
Eric stared at the table, embarrassment creeping through him, as if his deepest feelings had been exposed. "Maybe I was just out of my mind."
"I think you meant it. It's pretty much the truth, after all. At least... I feel like we're brothers, almost. When you're not being a complete pain in the butt."
Eric met his eyes, and managed a smile. "I guess I did mean it. Was that all?"
"That was pretty much it. Then you croaked."
Eric wondered briefly what that scene had been like, if anyone -- like Wes -- had actually cried for him, but it wasn't something he could ask. Instead he changed the subject. "What was the future like?"
"Don't you mean, what will the future be like?"
"It wasn't bad. Silver Hills had become Silver City. It's a lot bigger, spread out all over the valley. Lots of towers, very high. Beautiful. A lot less pollution. Time Force headquarters was really impressive, this big round dome with a bunch of big buildings around it. They had whole fields of flyers and timeships, and this big room full of computers and scientists where they study the timestream."
"It must have been nice to see your friends again."
"Yeah. But I was… kind of upset about Jen. Acted like a jerk."
"I thought I was the only jerk around here." Eric paused for a moment. "I'm sorry about Jen. In case I haven't said it before."
"You have. But thanks." A pause while Wes stared at his plate. "It felt so right to be with her again."
"You might not want to hear this now, but you really need to start thinking about someone else."
"Yeah. Maybe. But I can't see myself with anyone but Jen. I just have this feeling that we're meant to be together somehow."
Eric frowned. "You know that's not realistic."
"I know. But it's how I feel." After a moment Wes looked up with a slight smile. "You could have had your big chance with Katie, you know."
"And end up with more broken ribs than you?" Eric smiled. "Besides, I prefer someone a little closer to home."
He paused to watch her for a few moments. Gaby was waiting for him in the exercise room, going through the series of stretches and warm-ups he had taught her. She was actually getting almost graceful. And she looked good, her body trim, curved, and strong in a short exercise top and sweat pants. For a moment he stood, smiling slightly, letting himself indulge in trying to imagine her naked.
Any relationship was a risk, especially one with someone he worked with. Maybe it would be a mistake. But he had come to understand that life was too short to waste, and some risks were worth taking. After Angela, he still had doubts about whether he was ready to try again, but for the first time he felt he would be someday soon.
"Hello," he said as he walked into the room.
"Hi. How's it going?" She gave him a warm smile.
"Not bad. Pretty good, in fact."
"Yeah? Like what?"
He shrugged. "I guess I'm just glad to be alive."
She raised a brow. "That doesn't sound like the Eric Myers I know. What happened?"
He laughed. "I'll tell you all about it, sometime." After a moment he went on, more seriously. "Sorry I haven't had much time for our lessons lately. We were pretty busy with T-Gen, and the other Rangers. But now…"
"We never finished buying that computer for me."
"That's right. Any time you're ready, we can try again."
"How about tonight?"
"Want to go out for some dinner first?"
"Sounds even better."
"I hope we don't get interrupted this time."
He smiled. "Sometimes things work out better, the second time. Now, let's get started."
They were meeting in the same small, dark room they usually used, when they needed to be safe from Time Force. Now there were only two of them. A tall, strongly built man with short black hair paced angrily as a slender, silver-haired woman watched him.
"Failed, again," he said. "And the information we wanted, how to duplicate the Quantum morpher and correct our mutants' genetic instability, never reached me. Now, of course, none of our associates, including Lorent, remembers that reality."
"TransGenics has been compromised," the woman murmured. "It may no longer be useful, at least not directly."
"There's another possibility."
He smiled, suddenly and maliciously. "It would be ironic, wouldn't it? Use Bio-Lab? Bend Time Force itself to our will?"
She matched his smile. "Then we try again?"
"Of course. The Rangers aren't the only ones who never give up."