Disclaimer: We don't own Wes, Katie, Jen, Eric, Kimberly Lucas and Taylor. We partially don't own Rob Logan and Alice. They're all borrowed from BVE without permission, but no harm, no foul and no money made. Ben Johnson is borrowed from Ekat with grateful thanks. Everyone else has either been dreamed up by the deep and twisted recesses of Rach's brain or has been created by the gorgeous, witty and talented Gamine. We would appreciate you asking before you borrow. With apologies to George...
Rach notes: This is season four of the Far Future series and as it picks up where Quantum Chaos leaves off, you're liable to be lost if you haven't at least read that. With very, VERY grateful thanks to Gamine for agreeing to co write this with me (I couldn't do this without you).
Please offer us feedback -- it tells us how we're doing.
As the light faded, Ven knew it was too late. Two members of the welcoming committee had vanished, while the man who'd caused their disappearance was even now trying to back away.
"Oh no you don't..." Ven dived across the landing pad, but even as she tackled him to the ground, she realised there was something drastically wrong.
Over and over he was saying, "What've I done?" It didn't fit the picture.
"What the hell just happened here?" demanded Lucas.
"Where's Katie?" Al yelled. "What the hell have you done to her, you bastard..."
It was only Rob's intervention that prevented Al from launching himself at Ven's captive even as she was hauling him back to his feet.
"Al -- if you kill him now, you're not gonna be any closer to knowing what's happened," Rob warned.
"Ven?" prompted Lucas. "You seemed to know what's going on. What has Mr Carmen done?"
"It's called Temporal Abduction," Ven answered, pinioning Carmen's arms firmly behind his back.
"I didn't do it!" Carmen yelped.
"And there's a temporal transmitter in your hand, plus eyewitnesses that say you did," Ven snapped.
"OK -- let's get this inside," Lucas ordered before anyone could say anything else. "Hawking..."
"I'm already on it," Hawking answered, rapidly heading into the base.
Wes hit the ground with a thud that jarred every tooth, bone, muscle, sinew and tendon he owned. His stomach was in turmoil and he was sweating like a pig. And he thought he'd bitten his tongue, only he was fairly numb just at the moment. He lay on his back, staring up at the blue and cloudless sky.
He knew what had happened. This was the second time he'd been dragged through a time portal without protection. It wasn't a sensation one forgot easily.
"Goddammit," he muttered when feeling returned to his face. "I'm too old for this shit."
The second thing he did was look around for Katie. They'd been standing together, waiting for their kids to come home. Wes had draped an arm around her shoulders as reassurance for both of them.
And then Joshua Carmen had stumbled against them, and the bizarre slow-motion effect of travelling though time had begun.
Katie was curled in a heap, groaning and making retching sounds. Wes sat up slowly, the world spun crazily, and he remembered the other thing he hated about time travel as he emptied his stomach onto the sand.
From the corner of his streaming eye he could see Katie crawling over to him. He scooted away from the mess he'd made and lay back again, wiping his forearm over his mouth. "Ack," he said.
Katie gave him a tired nod and collapsed next to him, her head on his chest. Wes curled an arm around her.
"I thought I'd gotten used to that," Wes said, after sucking in a few deep breaths. "Didn't get sick the last time I time-hopped."
Katie held up a finger. "One, you were in a time ship. Two," a second finger went up, "you were expecting it. And three," her hand flopped back on his chest, "that was no hop. Took too long. We've jumped millennia, is my guess."
Wes sighed. "I hate number three."
"They'll be looking for us," she said. "All we have to do is not mess with the time line, not interact with anybody."
The sound of drumming hooves caught Wes' attention. He sat up and squinted. Sure enough, on the horizon was a group of silhouettes, black against the bright sun, riding some sort of huge creatures directly at their position. "I think," he said, hurriedly pulling Katie to her feet, "that's going to be something of a challenge."
John looked at Lexia and inwardly grimaced. They were sitting in the canteen, cups of coffee on the table between them, and so far, neither had said a word. Facing dad when he's angry with me would be better than this, he mused. About the only good thing was that JJ had rapidly absented himself from the meeting. John had a suspicion that the other man had every idea what this conversation was likely to be about and had decided it wasn't a conversation he needed to be a part of.
"John," Lexia finally began, "what's wrong?"
John froze, startled. "Huh?"
"I thought we were friends, but in the last two weeks you've been avoiding me."
"Well -- you've been out on patrol, I've been in the admin office." And the beauty of that statement was it was perfectly true -- Jackson had still to sign him back to active duty. It just wasn't the whole truth.
The look on Lexia's face told John she wasn't buying that. "John, I've seen you do it." She sounded hurt. "You see me coming and dive into the nearest room or...or go the other way or..." She shrugged. "I'd just like to know what I've done."
Started going out with someone else. But he could hardly say that. "You haven't..."
"Don't lie to me," she cut in. More gently, she said, "I know there's something wrong."
John sighed. He could say that he was worried about his father, but he had a feeling Lexia wouldn't buy that. Which left him with the uncomfortable alternative of somehow putting her off -- and great job he was doing of that so far -- or telling her the truth.
"John?" Lexia was now looking worried. "What is it?"
"Look -- I didn't...don't wanna tread on anyone's toes," John finally managed.
Lexia blinked slowly. "Oh." She looked down at her coffee cup.
"Oh?" John wondered what that was supposed to mean.
"I...sorta thought..." Lexia trailed off. "JJ and I aren't dating, if that's what you're thinking."
"But he wants to," said John. "And I sorta think you do too...an' I don't wanna get in the way."
Lexia snorted. "Might want to practice the sincerity before you say that one again."
"OK, I wanna beat his brains out," John snapped. "That any better?"
"Well it's honest," Lexia shot back. "Beats lying."
John said nothing, and did his best to swallow back the surge of anger. Yelling was not going to make this conversation the mature discussion it probably needed to be.
"Now that I have your attention," Lexia continued, her own voice moderating back to quiet tones, "let me tell you something. I'm not out to meet Mr Right. I'm not looking for love. I'm..." She paused and swallowed. "There's stuff going on that...I'm dealing with. On top of the craziness that's going on around here, with your dad an' this virus that's doing the rounds...it's too nuts. All I'm looking for right now is friendship."
For a second, the full import of the words didn't register with John. Then the truth finally trickled through his mind. "You mean...you're not interested in JJ?"
Lexia rolled her eyes. "That's what I've just said."
"John, he's a friend. Just a friend," she emphasised. "A good friend, and a nice guy, but that's all."
John could hear the unspoken 'at the moment', but it did nothing to kill off the renewed feeling of hope that maybe everything wasn't screwed up to hell.
"Think you can be the same?" Lexia continued softly.
"If it let me be a part of her circle of friends, I'd take what I could get." Suddenly, John understood what Rocky had been trying to tell him in the bar, and it dawned with him just how stupid he'd been in the past two weeks. "Of course," he found himself answering. "Whatever you need from me, Lex."
Lexia smiled at that. "OK, then." There was a bleep from her headset. "Oops -- gotta go; sorry."
John chuckled a bit. "See you later, huh?"
"Count on it!"
"Crap," said Wes, running toward the only cover he could see, Katie on his heels. "Crap crap crap." It was a wall of rocks, spiring into the sky, bare and unforgiving. Not a stellar hiding place. He looked around the cliff face, trying to determine which overhang to futilely dive under, when Katie smacked his butt.
"UP!" she said, suiting action to words by leaping for a sandy outcropping and pulling herself up. "Come on!"
Wes huffed out a short breath. "Definitely too old for this shit," he muttered, then grasped the edge of a boulder.
A hand at the back of his collar dragged him wholesale up the rocky shelter, and between them they scrambled to the top. Wes nodded his thanks at his companion, and the two of them played what he privately termed the "nothing to see here, move along" game as the riders approached.
The creatures they rode were huge, lumbering, shaggy, looking for all the world like the drawings Wes had seen in school of woolly mammoths. They stank too, even at this distance. Wes made a face. At least he and Katie were downwind, he thought wryly, breathing through his mouth.
They'd found the piles of sick, Wes thought as the group drew up, one of the riders dismounting and studying the ground. He could see them better now. They wore light coloured clothing, loose enough to allow air to circulate, but covering every inch of skin from sun exposure. Even their heads and faces were swathed. Wes mentally acknowledged that this was probably smart. Already he could feel the part in his hair and the backs of his hands and neck burning in the scorching desert sun.
The rider on the ground hollered something undecipherable, and the attention of the party swivelled toward the rocks. Wes ducked back, mentally running through every swear word he'd ever heard. Then he made some up.
Fifteen minutes later, most of the group were gathered in Ops. Carmen -- more for his own safety than anything else -- was safely secured in a holding cell elsewhere in the facility; Hawking was busily engaged in temporal readings and the beginnings of the hunt for the missing pair while Alice and Namir had both been sent to bed in no uncertain terms. Alice hadn't protested; Namir had tried, but his protests had been undermined by the jaw-cracking yawns that punctuated them.
Looking around the table, Ven realised that she probably ought to have also ordered Rick and Eric off as well. Both looked exhausted -- and in Rick's case, shell shocked. But then it wasn't everyday that you witnessed your father literally vanish into thin air. Elsewhere around the table, Al looked absolutely wild. Only the fact that Carmen was in secure holding was preventing him from committing murder, Ven suspected. Rob and Lucas both looked grim, although disturbingly, Rob was also casting her knowing looks. The final person seated at the table, Kimberly also looked grim and concerned.
Like we needed anything more going wrong.
"OK," said Lucas. "What do we know?"
"Carmen's kidnapped my wife!" Al snapped.
"Not just your wife," put in Kimberly before anyone else could say a word. "Wes is missing too."
Al opened his mouth to say something in response, but Lucas got in first: "OK. Why?"
"To keep up the pressure on us," Rob offered. "I don't know what Kim said in her testimony today..."
"Testimony?" Eric whispered.
"Fill you in later," Kimberly answered, giving his hand a squeeze.
"...but it's a pretty safe bet it screwed up Kerin's case even better than we did!" Rob finished, paying the minor interruption no heed.
"Right." Lucas nodded. "So was Carmen stringing us along this morning? Or is he just trying to prevent lynching now?"
That prompted silence. Either answer was ridiculous. That fact was killing Al, from his expression.
"Anyone?" Lucas appealed.
"Mind control," said Eric softly.
"Weak-willed..." Al muttered.
"Not necessarily," said Ven, shooting Al with a shut-up glare.
"Ven? Eric?" Lucas enquired. "Either of you wanna explain?"
A brief smile crossed Eric's face. "Can't speak for Ven, but mind control's been tried on at least one Guardian since all this shit started."
For a fraction of a second, Ven thought Kimberly was going to say something, but whatever it was, she decided otherwise.
"Ven?" Lucas prompted. "What were you thinking?"
Ven dragged her wayward attention back to the current situation. "Something he was saying when I grabbed him," she said. At Lucas' raised eyebrow, she continued, "He was saying he didn't do it."
"Which was dumb," commented Kimberly.
Rob nodded. "Yeah. But, as he was put into the holding cell he said, I couldn't stop -- I didn't want to do it."
Al opened his mouth to say something, but Lucas got in first: "Sounds like some form of memory tech." Lucas frowned. "Which means we need to track down the who, where, when and why of that. Ven, you're not a mem-spec, are you?"
Ven shook her head. "No -- gen-prac."
"What about Alicia Roberts?" suggested Rob.
Ven was a little surprised by Lucas' answering grimace. "If at all possible, I didn't want to involve anyone else in this." He sighed. "On the other hand, The Master already knows so frighteningly much about us that the chances are she's already a target..." Lucas shook his head. "I'll contact her in the morning -- it's too late to do anything about it now." He grimaced again. "Anyone got any other thoughts?"
"I don't think this was part of the original plan," said Kimberly thoughtfully.
That provoked a stunned silence.
"Honey?" Eric finally managed.
"Well...think about this," said Kimberly. "The Master, via Carmen, has had plenty of opportunities to do...what was it?"
"Temporal abduction," supplied Ven.
"Thanks. He could have abducted Lucas, or any of us, for that matter, during the trial. Let's face it, he could have easily abducted me when he took me over to the TOI -- and that would have been 'that' as far as the case in Eric's defence. But he didn't..."
"Thank God," Eric murmured.
"...so why suddenly, now decide to abduct Wes and Katie?"
"You think The Master's improvising?" queried Rob.
Kimberly shrugged. "You don't?"
"It's a theory," said Lucas.
"If he's improvising," said Eric quietly, "am I the only one wondering why he needs to keep us here?"
A long pause greeted the question.
"What do you mean, Eric?" Ven asked eventually.
Eric shrugged stiffly. "I don't know -- I just..." He hesitated. "If Wes is missing, someone needs to tell Jen, right?"
"First thing tomorrow morning," Lucas agreed. "I'm giving Hawking twelve hours to see if he can pull a miracle out of the hat -- no need to worry Jen if I don't have to."
"Couldn't hurt to tell her to keep her eyes open, then."
Lucas sighed and shook his head. "No. It couldn't."
Wes watched the riders carefully. Once or twice they seemed to be peering upward at his and Katie's position, but no shouts of recognition or sounds of pursuit came. Finally, they drifted off, the great beasts lumbering away toward the yellow horizon.
They seemed to have gone, whatever they were, leaving only a whiff of stink behind. Wes sagged in relief.
Katie scooted back from the edge of the cliff and turned to say something, but what it was, Wes never knew as one of the desert people suddenly appeared behind her, hitting at her with some kind of staff. To Wes' horror, Katie gave a shriek and rolled off the edge of the precipice.
"KATIE!" Wes shouted, lashing out at the being with a kick to the midsection and scrambling to the edge. He could see a flash of white below, on a ledge. He strained toward it in a panic, his arms and fingers stretched to their limit. "KATIE!"
There was a flash of pain from the back of his skull. And then everything went black.
TO BE CONTINUED...