Author's note: Hi, everyone. This is only the first half of the last chapter, which I thought I'd post now because I know it's been a while. Hopefully it'll all be finished soon. ~ NorthernStar

__________________________________________________________________________________

Sixteen I ~ Nothing Is Set In Stone…

Dylan's eardrums hurt; the sound of the mainframe's warning systems was so piercing that the sound seemed to reach inside of him to claw painfully at his innards. And then something tripped – a fuse, maybe a safety. Whatever it was, the sound snapped off with a sharp click and everything plunged into darkness. The silence deafening in the sudden absence of the noise, and then...

Two bodies thudded to the floor, and the smell of cooked flesh rose up to fill the air with its acrid scent.

The lights crashed on a second later, and the terminal screens around them flowed with data.

"Operating perimeters: normal." The computer announced.

Dylan fell to his knees beside Lauren, shouting into his communicator for a paramedic transport as Trance desperately searched for a pulse.

"No," he heard her whisper, "it wasn't supposed to be this way." But he didn't have time to ask what she meant. He had to get the doctor breathing again. As he positioned her head and closed his fingers over her nose, he saw the techs turning their attention to Harper, feeling for a pulse.

"NO!" Dylan cried, "leave him. We must help her!"

The tech frowned, "he was in that stream longer."

Trance looked up briefly from Lauren, "he'll be OK, I promise!"

"He won't if I don't get him breathing!"

"He will."

*****

"HARPER!"

Beka flew out of her chair at the screech of the medical terminals. The kid's eyes snapped open, full of panic and his mouth moved in the parody of a scream.

"What the hells wrong with him?" She yelled at the ceiling, and the hologram of Andromeda blipped into existence beside the bed.

"Unknown."

"Bek…" Harper managed. The young man was curling in on himself, clutching at his wound; his breathing came in uneven, pained gasps.

"What do I do?" Beka asked desperately.

"Get it off! Get it off!"

"What?" She grabbed his shoulder, making him look at her, "get what off?"

"The Dermo-plast…" He gasped, "on the wound." He began clawing at his chest, his nails leaving bloody marks on his skin. "Please…"

"I can't…"

"Please!"

"Harper, you'll bleed to death!"

"Beka," Rommie interrupted, "I'm reading a massive temporal displacement."

"What?"

"A ripple in the fabric of time/space."

"I know what one is! What's causing it?"

"Unknown. But it's originating from the planet."

"Oh great, no prizes for guessing who's behind it!" She glared at Harper, "what the hell has your other half done?"

"How the hell should I know?" He hissed, and pressed himself into an even tighter ball than before. "And he is not my other half!"

The plast over his stab wound finally gave and he yelled out as the tape ripped a few chest hairs away. Beka gasped. Instead of the bloody mass she'd expected to see, there was nothing but a faint red line, almost like well healed scar tissue. "It's… Where…?"

"He's changed something. That other me, he's done something to the timeline. I-I can…I can feel it, Beka! I gotta get down there. I could be the only one who can sort this mess out."

"No! No-one is going anywhere."

"Beka, temporal displacements are bad news. We're talking end of the Universe stuff here!" He ignored her sceptical look. "That other me caused this. So it's up to me to put it right."

She snapped, "Mr Modesty, you're in no state to make a decision like that."

"He's me! That's all the decision I need."

"Harper…" she stopped and let a glimmer of the concern she felt for him reflect on her face, if only for a moment. "He tried to kill you, Seamus."

"So I'll be ready for him this time. C'mon, Beka, trust me on this?"

******

Trance felt sick, her senses reeling from the turmoil in the Strings. It was hard to block out the noise in her mind and concentrate on the moment, and the young woman lying pale and still on the medical bed in front of her.

Lauren was barely alive, breathing only because of the excellent life support facilities on the paramedic transport they were on. Tubes and wires coiled and snaked around her, holding her in this world. This barest margin of life was the only thing keeping the future Harper's String intact. But in doing so it was taking a terrible toll on the fabric of reality. Trance could feel it, taste it, hear it… Whatever happened from this point on, Trance could not hide from the truth. She had helped cause it; she had knowingly brought this instability to the Strings, and she knew that even the Eternals would not forgive this betrayal.

Her Gift would not protect her from their wrath.

The sound of coughing interrupted her thoughts and she turned. Dylan was already helping the young man to sit. The attending paramedic paled in terror and whispered a prayer to the Divine.

The future Harper winced, "gotta hate that wake up thing."

Despite everything, Trance smiled, "you get used to it."

"Are you all right?" Dylan asked.

"Yeah, yeah," he looked at the life signs monitor strapped to his chest. "But you didn't have'ta go overboard here. I'm not the dyin' kind."

"We didn't." Dylan said, "the transports not for you."

Trance looked down and moved herself out of Harper's line of sight. His eyes fell on the stricken form in the other bed.

"The units for her."

"Lauren!" The anguish on his face was terrible to see.

*****

Kelly opened her eyes at the sound of the door chime. She put down the clear meditation crystal she had been using and untwisted her body for the lotus position. "Come in."

A small officious looking Tellen entered, bowing respectfully. "My apologies, Viv-En-Tor."

"That's all right." She said and then frowned, "what is it?" It had to have been important if she had been interrupted in the final hours before the ceremony.

"I…I'm sorry, truly, truly sorry to bring you such news."

"What do you mean?"

"Your sister," he murmured, "she's been taken to the Central Hospital. I'm…I'm afraid the reports are not good!"

*****

"Harper, you're crazy!"

He turned around at the Maru's airlock. "Actually I prefer sanity impaired, or challenged. It sounds less insulting."

"I can't believe your going to do this."

"Yeah, but you're not going to stop me."

"Dylan is going to freak."

"Since when have you taken orders from Dylan."

Beka shook her head and chuckled, knowing he was goading her. "Nice try, Seamus."

Harper sighed, and rubbed his chest, massaging away the ghost pain. "Beka, it's important, OK? Look, you know I can by-pass the Maru's security lock outs, but I rather take her with your blessing."

"This is crazy."

"Yeah, we established that. Are you gonna give me the Maru or not?"

She sighed. "He tried to kill you."

"Beka…"

"All right, all right!" She flung her arms up. "But if you're gonna go to Hell, I can at least drive you."

He put on a mock 'I'm touched' look.

"That way I know I'll get my ship back in one piece."

Harper frowned and followed her onto the Maru.

Andromeda's hologram appeared in front of the Maru. "For what its worth, I think you're both crazy."

They ignored her.

******

Trance sat in the hospital waiting lounge and watched the future Harper pacing back and forth, his face pale and shadowed. Eyes bright with worry and guilt for the woman who would become his wife and bear him children.

She wanted to say something to him to ease his guilt, but she found no words. Anything she might have said would be empty and ultimately cruel.

Dylan was at the other end of the room, talking to the presidential party and two weary looking doctors. She could see by the faint lines around his eyes and the firm set of his jaw that whatever was being said wasn't good news.

Trance felt a deep well of shame rise up. How many lives had she ruined in the last few hours? And how many more would be destroyed as a result of what was happening right now?

And all because of her…

"Captain Hunt!"

She looked up at the words and saw the Tellan's Viv-En-Tor and her personal guard enter the waiting area.

And then she was distracted by Harper's hand on her arm. She looked up, drowning out the worried conversation Lauren's sister was having with the doctors.

His eyes met hers. "We've got to help her, Trance!"

******

Harper's chest had begun seeping blood the moment the Maru set down on the planet. His eyes went wide at the sight, "what the…!"

Beka grabbed the front of his clothes and yanked them up. He blushed and recoiled from her touch, but she ignored him. "There's no wound." She frowned, and poked his flesh. "Nothing."

He looked down. The faint scar once more marked his chest. And at his touch, a faint trickle of red oozed out and dribbled wetly down his skin.

Harper hissed in pain, but it was over in a flash. The wound once more healing before their eyes.

*****

The room was silent save the quiet bleeping from the terminals above the ICU bed. Lights flickered on the panels, looking almost like many coloured stars in the darkened care unit.

Lauren looked small and fragile in the single bed. Her legs and hands had been bandaged tightly to aid the healing of the terrible burns she had suffered.

It wasn't fair.

Kelly felt a cold trickle on her cheek, surprising her. She had not cried for so long. She'd thought her quota of tears had been used up when the doctor's had diagnosed her illness as terminal, and in the many months after.

Bir'Mark had offered her a chance to put meaning back into her life, and give that same meaning to her death, by becoming the Viv-En-Tor. And it had made dying easier. For her, at least, Lauren had never truly understood.

Now she never would.

It wasn't fair.

Kelly had always had the courage to face her destiny, to face the responsibilities of the Viv-En-Tor. But that courage came from only one source: Lauren. That she would be with Kelly at the end, holding her hand, feeling so much pride in her sister's bravery, was all Kelly had to give her strength.

But now it was the other way around, and Kelly wasn't as strong like Lauren; she couldn't face this.

It wasn't fair.

They had wept together, when they'd learned Kelly was dying, long and hard, day after day, until one cold morning when they'd quietly decided to put away the grief and get on with their lives. However short a time that might be.

Who had known, back then, that Lauren's life would be cut so tragically as well?

It wasn't fair.

"No, it's not."

Kelly turned; unaware she'd spoken her thoughts aloud.

Bir'Mark stood respectfully in the doorway, looking older than she had ever seen. "It is long past the Hour. We must leave now or there will not be time for the ceremony. If midnight comes and the Viv-En-Tor still lives…" He took a long breath to steady the fast beat of his heart, "our nation will fall… Please, please, Kell'Lee, think of the people."

Her features grew tight and a touch of bitterness crept into her eyes. "I can't," she whispered. "I can't think of anything beyond my sister."

******

Beka had grabbed one of the low atmosphere jackets from the Maru's lockers to cover the red stain on Harper's shirt. It would far too hindering to walk about anywhere, least of all a hospital; dripping blood one minute and healing up the next. But the High Guard insignia on its breast proved helpful in negotiating their way through the crowds that had gathered at the hospital.

They had learned from the Global Broadcast that the Viv-En-Tor ceremony was on hold, for an undisclosed reason, and that the captain of the Andromeda was being named as one of those responsible. Patchy reports from the northern continents premier hospital that both the Viv-En-Tor, the president and Dylan Hunt was there, but no actual reports of anyone being injured.

They saw the crowds gathering outside, some praying, other's yelling. They were stopped at the main gates and questioned, but at the mention of Dylan's name, the Tellan's had let them through.

Halfway down the main corridor, Harper stumbled. Beka grabbed his shoulder, the movement jerking his head up, bringing him back to the here and now.

"Seamus?"

"I'm OK, I'm OK." He swallowed down, "dizzy, but OK."

Beka checked around her for any observers before grabbing Harper's clothes and yanking them up.

"Hey!" He objected and tried to swat her hand away.

"You've got nothing I haven't seen before." She countered, wiping the blood from his skin. Her eyes widened, "oh my God…"

Some of the blood had crystallised around the stab wound, which was open and bleeding. But not blood.

Light…

*****

"I have to see her."

Trance jumped a little at the ferocity in the future Harper's voice and glanced around nervously. Dylan's attention was focused on the doctor's, as was everyone else's. "They're only letting relatives in."

"I'm her freakin' husband!"

"No," she said, "not anymore. Maybe not ever." She shivered, "can't you feel it? The instability. In the Stings?"

His eyes were dark and his lips twisted. "I'm tryin' not too."

Worry filled her eyes, increasing the ever present little-girl aura around her. "I never wanted it to be like this."

"I know. Wasn't how I wanted it either, Trance."

******

Kelly stared through the large glass window into the ICU bay that her sister lay in. She hated being even this distance from Lauren, but she knew what she had to say would mean raised voices, and she didn't want to be banned from her sister's bedside for causing a scene.

Bir'Mark and his father, President Go'Mek stood behind her.

"Please, Kell'Lee, you must-"

"I am not leaving here until I know she's going to be all right."

"It's your duty." Bir'Mark said, "as Viv-En-Tor."

"I have a duty to Lauren! As her sister."

"You have to do this. There is no other duty. You have inside you the messages from a thousand people, words you must deliver before this day is out. It is your destiny. And your choice."

"And I'm choosing to stay here." Her eyes became pleading, "just a little longer. An hour, two. Just long enough that I know she's going to be OK."

"We have to leave now. It will take us almost an hour to reach the ceremonial grounds, and everything must be concluded before midnight."

Concluded…with her death. She met her friend's eyes, "I can live with my own death, but I am not going to die thinking of hers!"

"Kell'Lee…"

"I'm staying here!"

Dylan cleared his throat. "Your honours-"

Kelly's head snapped around, "stay out of this, High Guard!" She warned. "It is you and your crew's fault our world is facing this ruin!"

The president broke his silence. "Yes." He murmured, "and I fear there will be no treaty."

******

23:59. The president watched the numbers on the clock, mentally counting the seconds down. The halls and corridors of the medical centre echoed with the baying of the crowds gathered outside. Their shouts had got louder and louder the later it became. Someone out there took up the silent countdown going on in his head and the angry masses took up the chant.

5, 4… Bir'Mark laid a hand on his father's shoulder.

3, 2… The President shut his eyes.

1… The crowds crashed through the line of guards and peacekeepers. And not just there, at the hospital, but in town squares and capital's across the planet.

The Day of the Viv-En-Tor had passed without her death.

And Tellan Three descended into chaos…

******

A siren began to wail thought the medical complex. Beka looked at Harper, an unspoken agreement passed between them and they broke into a run. Medical personnel swarmed around, ferrying the sick out of their rooms for the evacuation. Beka yelled into her Comm as they dodged and weeved the panicked staff and patients. She had resisted contacting them before, as she knew Dylan would tell her to get right back to the Andromeda.

And she didn't want to find herself agreeing with him.

"Dylan! Trance! What the hell's happening?"

"Beka, are you on the Maru?" Dylan's voice was surprisingly calm.

"No, we're--"

"We? Never mind. Beka, get back to the Maru and assist the Tellan's peacekeeper patrols."

The pair dashed around a corner and stopped dead. "Can't."

"Why not?"

"Because we're right behind you." No need for a Comm to convey those words,

The tall rigid back in front of them turned to face them and the pair relaxed their stances despite the thunder in Dylan's stare. Harper leant an arm on Beka's shoulder and matched her self-satisfied grin. "And we're just as stuck in the hospital as you are, Boss." He looked at Beka, "Bosses."

*******

Concluded soon!