Masques
An Earth - Final Conflict story by Tina Price
(TinaP@prodigy.net)

Preview: Boone possesses several different faces; the one he shows to the Resistance, the one he presents to the Companions and one he wears in public. Since Kate's death, only one being has glimpsed the true face behind his many masks. Has Da'an learned enough about this day-to-day human deception to be able turn the tables on Zo'or?

Disclaimer: Earth - Final Conflict,all characters and images therein are the property of the Tribune Entertainment Company. Several characters appearing in this story are my own creation. Any similarity with anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.

Authors note: This story takes place a few weeks after the episode entitled, "Through the Looking Glass". My other stories, "Striving to Become", "The Lesser of Two Evils", "The Outsiders" and "Reflections of the Day" should be read first. This story is based upon my own idea of what is happening in the EFC universe. I am in no way receiving 'privileged information'. As always, advice, criticism and kudos are always welcomed. Please contact me at the above e-mail address.


Masques

By Tina Price

Boone leaned back in his chair and glanced surreptitiously at his watch. It was 22:10 and the last hour had already seemed to have gone on for an eternity.
He hated meetings like this - everyone fighting to have their own say about something, but nobody sticking to the purpose for the actual meeting. Every time he or Doors got the conversation back on track, someone would suddenly change the subject again.
"Look, Ilene, we'll discuss that another time," Doors corrected one of their scientists, as she brought up the need for more supplies for the third time. "We are here to discuss the feasibility of developing a vaccine which would destroy CVI motivational imperative without otherwise damaging the implant."
Conversation around the large conference table stopped again.
Boone had had enough. Rising to his feet, he addressed the group.
"Since nobody seems to have any opinion on this subject - one way or the other, I move that we pick this conversation up next time."
There was a general air of agreement around the table as people nodded their heads or muttered 'Thank-goodness' under their breath.
Boone sat down, but was not about to end the meeting just yet.
"Very well. Now that that's been taken care of, and since I happen to be the only person left at this table who hasn't made a personal request during this meeting..."
"Get on with it," Augur interrupted him. "I have places to be and things to do!"
"Your date waited this long. It can keep another twenty minutes," Boone snapped as he pointed a finger at the techno-wizard.
Everyone but Doors laughed at the exchange. The millionaire sat there with his fingers steepled before him and merely stared impatiently at Boone, who again rose to his feet to address the table.
"I've brought up this subject before," he began. "but things are beginning to come to a head and it must now be seriously addressed.
Da'an is the only Taelon we know of who cares what happens to the human race. As many of you already know, he and I have a sort of bond which makes it extremely hard for me to hide information from him. He has been aware of my involvement in this organization for a while now, and has gone out of his way to keep that knowledge to himself."
Boone walked around the table, coming to a stop next to Lili. "Lili here, will back me up when I say that he has proven that his loyalty lies not with his race's agenda, but with a higher ideal. He is a powerful ally and I believe we must provide him with some protection. We cannot afford to lose him."
"What exactly is it that you're suggesting?" came Doors' gravelly voice.
"Lili and I are currently his contacts, but if we should be off on an assignment when he receives important information, or if he is threatened by his own people, he should have a means of contacting this organization."
"You want to give him a direct line to us?" Doors was incredulous.
"Or one or two other contacts," Lili answered as she too rose to her feet. "We can't risk losing Da'an! If he wanted to crush us, he could have had his people obliterate this site from orbit - that's how much he already knows."
Boone winced at the information Lili had spilled even as Doors jumped to his feet and slammed his palms down on the table. The look he fixed the implant with was deadly.
"You gave away the location of this facility....and you didn't even tell us??!!" Doors' face became beet red with ire. "Just who the hell do you..."
"It wasn't Boone," Lili broke in.
Doors rounded on her. "What?"
"It wasn't Boone who gave away the location," Lili said in a small voice, looking like a trapped mouse. "It was me. I...didn't let it slip intentionally. It's just that Da'an and I..."
"Lili," Boone said gently, as he gripped her arm. "You don't have to do this..."
She met his eyes. "Yes I do. It's time to be honest about it. It's not right for you to keep trying to protect me like this!" Turning back towards her fellow Resistance members, Lili continued. "Da'an and I spent a long time in the Appalachians and as you all know, he saved my life. What you don't know is that he and I engaged in a Taelon ritual called 'sharing'. It was a telepathic meeting of the minds which allowed us to see beyond the external and come to truly know each other. I didn't realize just how much he would actually learn until much later on."
Lili sank back down in her seat, and looked like she wanted very much to just disappear.
There was silence around the table as everyone stared at her and tried to digest what she had just said. As people finally began to murmur to each other and excitedly discuss this latest tidbit of Taelon news, Boone took the opportunity to squat down next to Lili's chair. Capturing one of her hands, he brought it up to his mouth and brushed his lips over the back of it as he looked her in the eye.
"Thank you," he said simply.
"What are friends for?" she whispered back as she withdrew her hand and fought to compose herself.
"Not one friend in ten would have had the guts or the conviction to do what you just did," he answered. As he straightened up, Augur addressed him. The others all stopped talking and listened.
"So...Da'an knows about this facility...He knows what Lili knows - which means he knows who some of us are...Which means that he might have known who Sahjit was when he chose to help him escape." Here Augur also stood. "BUT...And this is a BIG but - he may also have let Sahjit go simply to hurt Zo'or's reputation before the Synod. You admitted this yourself, Boone. He might have done the same regardless of who the poor schmoe was!" He shook his head. "It's too soon to be having this discussion. Let the Synod put more pressure on your Taelon friend. Then we'll see if he is loyal or not."
"Exactly my opinion," Doors broke in. "We cannot even begin to trust him until we see how far he's willing to go against his own people."
"I volunteer," came Sahjit's voice.
"What are you babbling about?" Doors fixed him with a sour look.
Sahjit looked at Boone. "Give him my number as a contact. I really haven't anything to lose and at least he'll have someone to get a message to in an emergency."
Boone and Lili looked pointedly at Doors as all other eyes eventually turned his way as well.
"Very well," he rasped. "For now Sahjit will serve as a contact, but as far as a direct line goes - we wait. We wait until we're sure about your friend."
Boone nodded. Doors had made the phrase, 'your friend' sound more like a curse than a blessing. "OK, everybody," he bellowed. "Meeting's over. Go home!"
People quickly filed out of the room, with Lili and Boone remaining behind. Glancing over the tall auburn-haired implant's shoulder, she noticed that Augur hadn't left and was instead approaching.
"Could I have a moment with him?" she asked.
"I'll be right outside," Boone answered, already moving toward the door. "Watch it,"he warned Augur as he passed him.
"I thought you had somewhere you had to be?" Lili asked as Augur stopped in front of her.
"I do and I'm there," he said as he pulled a chair out for her and sat in the next one over. As she sat down, he slouched and leaned his chin on his right arm, which he propped up on the armrest of the chair. "Lili," he began tentatively. "Is this 'ritual' with Da'an what you were trying to tell me about that time I visited your apartment?"
She nodded. "I couldn't even begin to tell you about it then. I hadn't even figured out what had happened yet."
"So, what was it like?" he asked with more than a little curiosity. "I mean, was it..."
"Stimulating?"
"Yeah, stimulating," he responded, relieved that she had brought it up for him.
"As a matter of fact, it was."
Augur's face fell. "Are you telling me that you and Da'an....?"
"Had sex?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.
Augur gulped and nodded.
"NO!" Lili stood up. "Jeez, Augur, you really are too much..."
"Are you sure you didn't?" he rose also and ignored her disgusted look. "...because maybe he thinks that you did - he IS an alien after all."
"'HE' is really an 'IT' and we are not having this conversation! Not now and not ever!" She stomped her foot and looked perilously close to tears. "I should have known that I couldn't explain this to you...Only Boone is capable of understanding - and maybe Beckette."
Augur looked incredulous. "Boone had sex with him too?...Yowww!!!"
Lili had kicked him in the shin and stormed out.

Lili glanced towards the back of the shuttle, where Boone sat apparently deep in thought. She didn't like the way he was looking lately - pale and more than a little tired.
"When's the last time you got some decent sleep?" she threw back over her shoulder.
"It's been a while," he admitted as he rubbed his face. "I keep waking up three or four times a night. Sometimes I have nightmares..."
"Nightmares? What about?"
Boone shook his head. "Half the time I can't remember, but the few times I have - I wish I hadn't." His face looked grim. "Even my skrill has been contributing to the bad -dream pool. I wish that I could shake the feeling that something bad is coming down on us."
Lili swivelled her chair around to face him. "Do you think the Taelons are about to make a move?"
"Worse than that. I think that their enemies are."
Lili paled and then attempted to lighten the conversation. "I think that you need to start working out again - and eat better. While your at it, you might want to ask for a few days off - you could really use the rest."
"I look that bad, eh?" Boone shook his head. "I don't have TIME to take time off - none of us do...Besides, can you just image the Synod's reaction to finding out that Da'an's implant asked for a vacation?"
Lili snorted. "You have a point there, but I'm sure that our Taelon friend could work something out for you. I know that he worries..."
"Yeah, well...there's no sense in worrying him any further. I don't want you to even mention the idea to him."
Just then, the auto pilot beeped their imminent re-emergence into the correct dimension and Lili turned to re-claim the controls.
"Could you let me off at my house?" Boone asked as he closed his restraints. I need to be back in DC early tomorrow for that meeting. The rest of my paperwork can wait until I get back."
"Not a problem. Should I pick you up on your doorstep tomorrow or would you prefer the office?"
Before he could respond, Boone's global suddenly chirped. He had it out and open in a second. Da'an himself appeared upon the screen.
"Da'an..."
"What is your current location?" the Companion asked without preamble.
"Lili was just about to land on my front lawn. Why? What's wrong?"
"There has been...a new development. Please return here as soon as possible." He cut the transmission.
"What was that all about?" Lili asked. "Do we land or turn right around?"
"Land. I need to grab some things for tomorrow. As for what's going on - it must be important if it can't wait a few more hours."

Boone slung his overnight bag over a shoulder and hopped out of the shuttle almost before it had come to a standstill.
"Will!" Lili shouted behind him, leading him to pause and look back. "Don't forget to tell Da'an the news!"
"Right...." Boone winked at her. "I'll call you after the meeting tomorrow!" Turning, he trotted off towards the entrance to the main core of the embassy as the shuttle roared off behind him.
Now that he had actually arrived, anxiety over the urgent request for his presence began to hit him. He just couldn't shake the sense of dread which had been following him the past few weeks...
Carefully schooling his face, he hurried on towards his destination, suddenly looking forward to seeing his Taelon friend again.
It was with some shock that he turned the corner and found himself interrupting a conversation between Sandoval...and Zo'or! The two of them were standing before Da'an's chair talking in hushed tones.
There was no sign of the North American Companion.
Sandoval and Zo'or stopped talking and stared as Boone planted himself between them and turned to face Zo'or. At six feet, four inches tall, he was imposing enough to cause even Zo'or's smirk to slip.
"I assume that you've been invited?" he hissed. "Because if you haven't..."
"Boone!" Sandoval gripped his arm and pulled him back a pace. "How dare you address Zo'or like this? He is still a Taelon and therefore deserving of your respect."
"Sorry. This particular Taelon has never had my respect," Boone ground out as Zo'or visibly flinched. "And I am perfectly within my rights as head of security in asking him if he's been invited. Quo'on himself has decreed that he is not welcome here without such invitation."
Boone watched as Zo'or scowled and blushed brightly, taking satisfaction in the response he had elicited.
"I was invited here by Agent Sandoval," the Taelon representative to the U.N. snapped. "I believe that such an invitation from Da'an's attache is sufficient to justify my presence."
Boone noted Sandoval's rising anger and had just opened his mouth to make another biting comment, when he was interrupted by Da'an, who appeared at the top of the ramp which led to his living quarters.
"Boone," the companion's voice rang out sharply. "Approach me."
With a final glare at his adversaries, Boone turned and made his way up the ramp, coming to a halt directly before his companion.
"Such behavior is unlike you," Da'an admonished, as the the two bystanders stood below watching. "You are to treat your fellow implants with the respect which they are due." Below, Zo'or's smirk faded as he noted that he had been excluded from Da'an's correction.
Turning, the North American Companion indicated his chamber entrance. "Come, Boone. We have much to discuss."
Looking down at the two flushed on-lookers, one red, the other blue, Boone struggled to keep a straight face as he preceded Da'an into his quarters.
Once inside, he turned and waited as Da'an secured the portal and turned to face him.
The companion merely stood near the doorway and stared, his unblinking gaze making Boone feel like a fidgety grade school student standing in the Principal's office.
"OK, I shouldn't have confronted Zo'or like that..." Boone admitted. "It won't happen again."
Giving his implant a sour look out of the corners of his eyes, Da'an slowly circled him before coming to a stop facing him.
"It is foolish of you to antagonize Zo'or further," he said, but the corners of his mouth rose ever so slightly as he continued. "...however, I understand why you felt it necessary to confront him."
Boone let his breath out. "What is going on here? Why are you even tolerating that...that..."
"Taelon?"
"I was going to say something decidedly less polite," he dead panned.
Finally blinking, Da'an looked down at the carpeting for a second before returning his gaze to Boone's face.
"Zo'or is still a high ranking member of the diplomatic caste, Boone. If Sandoval has invited him here, then he has every right to accept the invitation."
"And, why, pray-tell is Sandoval inviting him here?" Boone grumbled. "I can't picture him doing something which he knows will displease you..." He suddenly fixed his companion with a knowing look as everything came together in his mind. "You've asked him to invite Zo'or, haven't you?"
Da'an nodded. "It may be useful for us if Zo'or believes he has an ally here."
Da'an walked slowly around the room before once again coming to a stop before his implant. He seemed to be collecting his thoughts or perhaps trying to word what he wished to say.
"Go on and say what's on your mind," Boone prompted him.
Da'an looked startled, but he nodded slightly and spoke.
"Agent Sandoval has already imparted to me something of great interest," he admitted as he locked eyes with his implant. "It is the reason I summoned you here, however, I now find myself hesitant to relay the information to you. I fear it may re-open a wound which has only just begun to heal..."
Boone, unexpectedly pleased by this proof that his friend did indeed 'worry' about him, carefully kept his expression neutral. "Go on... I'm a big boy now - I can handle it," he prompted.
The pale alien tilted his head, apparently confused by the human's wording.
"Agent Sandoval has learned that there are several female patients at the Vandewater Institute in Reston, Virginia, who are a part of a recent experiment."
"That's the same institute in which Dee Dee Sandoval was being kept...along with some of Sandoval's other enemies," Boone quickly stated. He realized that the companion had mentioned a recent mental wound and female patients...
"My God! Please tell me that this isn't about fetal implantation."
Da'an remained silent, although his face showed some concern.
Without a sound, his mouth set in a grim line, Boone wheeled around and moved to the window, where he remained silently staring out at the panorama that was DC at night.
"You are still angered about your sibling's treatment..."Came the companion's voice from directly behind him.
"Of course I am!" he snapped. Images of his sister's tear-streaked face as she told him about the 'loss' of her unborn child came back to haunt him. He was brought out of the sudden, unwanted CVI flash-back by Da'an's touch. The companion had moved to Boone's side and laid his left hand over Boone's right one.
With an effort, Boone relaxed his hands. He hadn't even realized that he had been clenching his fists! He struggled for a way in which to make Da'an understand, but to his dismay, he couldn't even seem to make a start.
Da'an gazed up at him in a knowing way for a moment and then spoke.
"You must believe me when I tell you that there was nothing you could have done to spare her the pain she now feels," he said in a soothing tone. "You had no knowledge of the current portal project...and I had no knowledge that your sister would be targeted. You must not allow your imagined guilt to cloud your mind and rule your life..."
Boone hung his head and closed his eyes. How he wished that things were as simple as Da'an thought they were. Taelons seemed to be expert at controlling and channeling their emotions, but humans were not like that...At least, most humans weren't...
"Perhaps you would care to tell me why it is that your people are experimenting in this area?" He spoke as though from a great distance. "Is this absolutely necessary? Are your people barren?"
A quick glance showed him that Da'an's face had become stern, a sure sign that Boone had pushed him in a direction in which he was not willing to go. He did not speak and Boone found it very difficult to hide his growing frustration at being kept out of the loop. Closing his eyes, his mask slipped, allowing the anger and frustration he felt at being denied show upon his face.
Seconds ticked by, and yet, time seemed to have stopped. There was not a sound in the room. Da'an must have remained as motionless as himself.
It was therefore startling when he felt the companion's fingers lightly brush over his profile. With amazement, Boone's eyes snapped open to find that Da'an was standing before him.
"It grieves me to see this hard look upon your face..." the Companion said softly as he dropped his hand.
"I'm SO sorry to have lost control of my mask," he snapped sarcastically before once again assuming the emotionless look of a true implant. "I certainly would not wish to disturb your peace of mind..."
Nearly wincing under the uncharacteristic backlash and noting that his human friend still was not looking directly at him, Da'an actually sighed. "The experiments are integral to the survival of my people," he admitted.
Boone nodded, but pushed his companion for the rest of the truth. "Your people are barren," he stated, finally looking directly at him.
"Yes. Nearly." Da'an turned his back to Boone, in turn looking out the window. "Our birth rate has declined sharply with each succeeding generation so that but three new Taelons have joined the commonality since Zo'or."
"Then you are also one of the last." Sensing that his friend wanted none of his pity, Boone kept his voice matter-of-factual.
"As is Quo'on," Da'an responded. There was a long pause and Da'an was first to break the silence. "Do not pursue this investigation on your own, Boone. I fear what will happen to you, should Zo'or discover the secret you carry. Please relay this information to your people so that they may somehow put a stop to further... experimentation involving these patients."
"That would not be wise," he responded, looking at the back of the Taelon's head. "If it comes out that Sandoval relayed this information to you just before the Liberation moved in on the institution, you will be identified as the informant. If I go out there myself, you can always tell Quo'on that you ordered me to check out the situation and report back to you."
"Boone, you must guard your own life as well as those of your friends..."
Boone gently turned his friend around to face him so that they finally made eye contact. "I understand what you're saying to me, Da'an, but risks are a necessary part of who I am and what I'm doing...I'm not afraid to die, if good can come of it."
Da'an tilted his head. His look seemed to be one of incredulousness. "No good will come of it. I assure you that Zo'or will not kill you. A much worse fate will be yours, given the nature of your crimes against the Taelon agenda."
"Torture?" Boone raised an eyebrow. "I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised after having heard the threats he made to Sahjit a while back. It only goes to show that your people are not as advanced as they'd like us to believe they are."
The North American Companion tilted his head the other way and his mouth drew tight. "You misinterpret my meaning. In this case, torture would not be necessary. All you would require is re-implantation with a fully functional CVI and you would be more than willing to inform Zo'or of all you know. Once you have betrayed your associates and myself, you would become his loyal and most-willing-servant."
Boone swallowed convulsively. "I've always known the danger. I assure you that such a scenario shall never come to pass."
"I have already assured you that it shall." Da'an said, in what, for him, was a loud tone, as he again turned his back to his implant.
Boone felt the turmoil the companion was trying to hide seep through their bond. Moving forward, he placed his hands upon the companion's shoulders, which allowed him to pick up more hidden emotion from the alien.
"Da'an, when I first took this assignment, I made sure that I would be killed quickly, mercifully, should I ever become a full implant. The resistance now has enough people in key locations to ensure that not even yourself or Zo'or will be successful in prying my secrets from me."
Da'an blushed blue and looked down at the carpeting for several seconds before he could regain his composure. Finally he turned and met Boone's concerned gaze.
"Lili...?"
"Believe me, she would be the first. She cares too much about me to allow such a thing to happen."
"Your death will not help your people. It would be a waste...a loss to all we hope for."
"This from the person who was so keen to die simply because the Synod asked him to...?"
"We are different than we were."
"Yes." Boone gripped his friend's forearms. "Yes - we are. Which is why I'm asking you to make me the same promise - that you will help me go on to the next level rather than face death in life as a full implant."
"I...can not do such a thing. To take a life...let alone yours..." Da'an's gaze became liquid blue, as his true form became apparent once more.
"Then you must find the strength to help my people to do it." Seeing Da'an shake his head, Boone gave him a shake in turn. "If you honor our bond - you must!" he hissed. "You have to help make it easier for me to let go..."
Seeing that his friend was still hesitating, he tried another tack. "It wouldn't be me anymore, Da'an! You know that! I would not acknowledge you - I might even try to hurt you...if I hadn't already given Zo'or enough information to have the Synod make you suicide yourself. Could you stand to see me like that?" Boone suddenly released his arms. "Could you?"
The Companion's human guise dropped completely even as he sagged against the tall human, so that his amble forehead was actually pressed against the human's chest. "I...could not," he finally whispered. In a barely audible, defeated tone, he continued. "I shall do as you ask, Boone. I shall see to it that we both go on to the next plane, if it should come to that."
Boone relaxed enough to place a hand on Da'an's cool, smooth head and leaned his own chin atop it.
"William. My name is William," he reminded his friend softly. He alone knew what such a promise had cost his friend. "...and you will not go on to the next plane. You WILL try to save yourself - even if it means actively joining the resistance. You'll have to help carry on what we both started."
Da'an extricated himself from the human's embrace and stepped back a pace. He still had not regained his human guise. "You ask too much of me." His voice was barely audible.
"No. I ask only what is necessary." Boone reached out and carefully ran his fingers over the alien's profile. "Have I told you that I like seeing your real face?" he asked.
"Rather than the mask I wear before your people?" Da'an responded. "We are, both of us, accustomed to hiding behind false faces. We should never feel the need to do so with each other."
Boone suddenly recited;

"We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes -
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask."

Da'an's 'eyes' blinked as he absorbed the words and feeling behind them. His head rolled one way and then the other, in a gesture which Boone had come to associate with strong Taelon emotion.
"The poet's name?" Da'an asked simply when he had straightened up.
"It's an excerpt from a poem entitled "Masks", written by Paul Laurence Dunbar."
"I thank you for sharing it with me."
Boone smiled. "It seemed...appropriate," he shrugged. "and I knew of your penchant for human literature."
For the first time, Da'an seemed to notice Boone's overnight bag, where it lay abandoned next to one of the wing chairs. "It grows late," he noted. "I assume that you will be staying?"
"If you think that you can put up with me." Boone smiled fondly at his friend.
Da'an's human face rapidly regenerated, complete with an amused smirk. "I am quite capable of enduring nearly anything you may do to annoy me...William."
Boone laughed heartily.
"Agent Sandoval has reclaimed his room. It would be safest if you were to remain here."
Boone stopped laughing.

Boone slowly came back to consciousness and opened his eyes. It took him a moment to remember where he was - Da'an's private quarters. Bringing his arm up before his face, he squinted at his watch in the early morning gloom and was barely able to make out the time.
It was 05:47 hours. He had slept straight through the night!
With a stretch which cause his frame to extend over the head and foot of the bed, Boone sighed deeply and smiled. He felt better than he had in weeks! Throwing off the jacket which he had been using as a coverlet, he sat up and looked around the room. There was no sign of the companion.
'Probably went down to his audience room to absorb some energy,' he muttered to himself.
When he had lain down to sleep, Da'an had been seated in one of the wing chairs, reading "The Histories" by Herodotus. Judging by the huge stack of books now on the end table next to that chair, the companion had read through the night.
Boone seriously doubted that Da'an ever really slept. The companion himself had once admitted that the closest they came to such a state was more like daydreaming than anything else. It explained why the bed seemed to be as new and unused as if it had only just been purchased.
Coming to his feet, he decided that the first order of business would be finding some bathroom facilities. Sandoval's chamber definitely had them, but would Da'an's?
Fortunately, they did.
The small, human-style bathroom was located toward the rear of the chamber and even contained a small step-in shower. Another human affectation, it was obvious that the room, although dust-free and stocked with towels, was never used.
Thankfully it was fully functional.

As Sandoval stepped outside the door of his chamber at precisely 06:15, his attention was drawn up-corridor, to Da'an's portal, where he heard the unmistakable sound of someone getting ready to emerge.
Clasping his hands behind his back, he put on a pleasant smile and readied himself to wish his companion a pleasant morning.

Cleaned, shaved and dressed, Boone stepped out into the corridor and came face-to-face with Sandoval.
The man was staring at him with a look of horror on his face!
"Well, good morning, Ron!" he instantly chirped in the most up-beat tone he could muster. Without waiting for a reply, he passed the shocked attache and moved down the corridor towards the main audience chamber.

Four hours later Boone sat at a table in Resistance HQ with Lili, Augur and Sahjit. Together they poured over maps of the Vandewater facility, which included the grounds, nearby residential area and building plans.
Doors had been informed, but had seen no need to get personally involved with the planning. Fortunately, he was not currently tying up Augur's time and the computer wizard had instantly taken an interest in the case upon discovering Lili's involvement in it. It was he who had provided the maps.
"Did you tell Da'an about our decision last night?" Sahjit asked, as he scrutinized the facility maps.
"He was pleased to learn of your support," Boone assured him.
"Fah! I'll bet he was...."
Lili fixed Augur with a deadly look and the techno wizard quickly returned his attention to the security badges he was counterfeiting.
Boone briefly gave Augur the once over before turning back to Sahjit. "Da'an asked me to tell you how much he regrets the way your life has been effectively curtailed."
"It's all right. I can live underground for a while...besides, I knew the dangers when I volunteered for that assignment."
They were interrupted by two ID badges, which landed on the table between them.
"Here you go," Augur said, as he began packing up his things. "These'll give you and Lili access to most of the facility. Remember - the third shift guards are not well acquainted with first shift personnel, so that 's your story. I've already hacked their security system, so if they run a check on you, it'll confirm your right to be there."
"Where are you going?" Lili asked as he stood and made as if to leave. "Are you running out on us already?"
"Sorry - I have a prior engagement," he shrugged. "Good luck. I'll check up on you later."
With that, Augur practically flew out of the room.
Seeing the disapproving look on his friends' faces, Sahjit spoke up. "He really does have something important going on. I'm amazed that he even stayed this long."
Boone and Lili exchanged looks before turning back to the task at hand.

Less than three hours later, with all the details of the excursion worked out, Boone contacted Da'an from his office. It was not quite 14:00 hours.
"Can we talk?" he asked as soon as the companion appeared upon his communication screen. There was a brief pause while Da'an dismissed whomever he had been entertaining.
"Go ahead Commander," he prompted.
"I'll look into that problem we discussed, tonight around one. If I don't back up with you by three, you'll know there's been a problem."
Da'an nodded. "Good luck, Boone," he said, as he broke the link.

Lili landed the shuttle in a large field which was obscured from the clinic by wooded stand of trees. She and Boone wasted no time in grabbing their small black portfolios and high-tailing it to the main parking lot on the other side of the trees. Once they were near the building, they removed the white coats from the portfolios and donned them along with the ID badges.
The entrance way guard let them through without question.
"This way," her large companion prompted, as he turned right and headed for the staircase at the end of the corridor.
"You're the doctor, Doctor," she whispered as she followed.

Da'an sat in his audience chamber chair and patiently awaited word from his implant. Now and then, the fingers of his left hand would tap the armrest - the only external indication of his state of mind. In reality, he was fighting the urge to rise and begin pacing before the windows. Such activity would be unproductive at best...and, if witnessed, could be construed as further proof that he was becoming too much like the humans he sought to protect.
Focussing himself, he sought instead to reach out with his mind and seek the consciousness which was Boone's. At such a distance, and with his implant wide awake, there was little which he could glean in the way of information, however, he felt certain that if something untoward happened, that he would feel it.
It was with a shock of dread that he watched Zo'or enter his presence, followed by Agent Sandoval.
"Agent Sandoval," he addressed his implant. "You led me to believe that you were retiring for the evening. Please explain this intrusion..."
It was Zo'or who spoke. "I believe that Quo'on may be able to clarify the situation for you."
As if on cue, a data stream image of the Taelon Synod leader formed before the confused North American Companion.
"Da'an," he spoke gravely. "It has come to my attention that your implant, Cmdr. Boone, and his shuttle pilot, Captain Marquette have arrived at our experimental facility in Virginia. Were you aware of this?"
"It was I who sent them there," Da'an admitted.
"To what purpose?" Zo'or broke in, moving to stand closer to his rival.
"I believe much is being kept from me with regard to this facility. I asked my implant to report back to me with whatever evidence he might collect."
"Such conduct is unseemly in one of such rank as yourself," Quo'on replied indignantly. "If the Synod wished for you to have this information, we would not have taken such pains to keep it from you. Why did you not turn to me with your concerns in this area?"
"Never before has the Synod been so secretive in their machinations," Da'an explained. "Most certainly not with regard to their higher ranking companions. I fear that the Synod is being led astray by those with a gift towards intrigue." Here he turned to look directly towards Zo'or. "You, of all people know better than to trust one voice at the expense of the majority. I feared that any inquiry I might make of you would be refused - and with just cause, it appears."
Quo'on stared at Da'an in silent outrage for a moment. Only when the North American Companion lowered his head in a show of subservience, did he speak again.
"I regret the deception, however, I believe that you will concur that it was necessary in this instance." Quo'on gestured towards Zo'or. "This one has made the valid point that our worse leaks have occurred with regard to information passing through this embassy. It has become essential that the informants be identified and eliminated."
"William Boone's CVI has already been tested to ensure it is in working order," Da'an pointed out. "It is illogical to assume that he could be the source of the leak."
"Ah, but William Boone himself admitted that he had discovered that his memories of Elise Chapell were false implants," Zo'or argued. "His test of loyalty was therefore invalid - he might have done precisely what he then knew we wished him to do. Knowing that Elise was our agent, he did not fear what would happen to her should he turn her over to us."
Da'an shot Sandoval a piercing look. Surely this information had been volunteered by the implant. Sandoval was visibly disturbed by the look and stepped back so that Zo'or remained between him and Da'an, effectively screening himself from any further glares.
"What has this to do with the Vandewater Institute?" Da'an finally asked.
"There is nothing going on at the institute," Zo'or happily explained. "You were given this information in the hopes that you would do precisely what you did - send your favored implant and his assistant to look into it."
Da'an leaned back in his seat as his sense of dread escalated. "What will become of them?" he asked.
"They will be captured by the 'Liberation'," Zo'or gloated. "and taken to a hideout where they will be questioned and perhaps even coerced into revealing information about the defenses at this embassy. In short, they will be made to believe, beyond doubt, that they are in the hands of a faction of the liberation."
"If Commander Boone or Captain Marquette are moles, they will reveal their allegiance to our operatives, effectively exposing themselves," Quo'on explained. "It is a brilliant plan, which has been used with success at other companion facilities."
Da'an struggled for composure before speaking again. "If they pass the test, they will be returned to me?"
"Yes." Quo'on looked sympathetic. "I know Boone is bound to you and that you vouch for him, however, you must understand my position on this. The rest of the Synod must be completely convinced of his loyalties."
"I understand...that it is myself whom you no longer trust." Without another word, Da'an descended from his chair and slowly quit the room.
Quo'on's image turned to glare at Zo'or. "You had best be right in your assumptions," he warned. "We do not take the questioning of Da'an's loyalties lightly."
"I understand your position on this, however, as I stated to the Synod, Lili Marquette may be the mole. Da'an cannot vouch for her, as she does not enjoy the same familiarity Boone shares with your brother, nor has she ever been adequately tested."
With a nod, Quo'on's image faded. The satisfied smile which crossed Zo'or's face made even Sandoval shutter.

Boone exited the stairwell on the second floor and, with Lili next to him, walked down the corridor and made a right. This brought them into the main second floor corridor.
"You sure about this?" Lili asked under her breath as Boone approached the nurse's station.
"It's the only way to get into the secured ward," he hissed. "Be quiet and act arrogant..."
At the desk, Boone greeted the charge nurse and signed the clipboard before passing it to Lili. After checking her computer, the nurse buzzed them through the metal security doors.
"See?" Boone said over his shoulder. "Piece of cake"
Lili's only reply was a snort.
Boone turned left at the next corridor and stopped before the first room. "This is it - room 214. All our subjects are in the next five rooms as well - 216 through 224." Using the keys he had obtained at the desk, he unlocked the door and stepped inside.
It was empty!
Exchanging startled glances, Boone and Lili quickly backtracked to the corridor and moved to the next room.
It was empty as well - as were the remaining four.
"Come on. We're getting out of here!" Boone hissed out under his breath, as he led the way to the stairwell at the end of the hall.
"Wait! Can we get out this way?" Lili asked as they approached the fire door.
Boone produced the small flashlight-sized blow torch Augur had given him. "We are NOT going back through the nurses station!"
Both their mouths gaped open when they discovered that someone had already cut through the lock. Standing to the side with his skrill at the ready, Boone slowly pushed the door open. The stairwell appeared deserted.
"Maybe someone got to the patients before we did?" Lili asked.
"Doors!" was Boone's terse response. "Come on."
The two of them quietly made their way down the stairs and out the exit.
"Lili! get down!" Boone cried as they found themselves confronted with a van and several dark-clad, hooded men dragging what appeared to be the missing patients into it. Boone instantly guessed that the women had been drugged. Pushing Lili to the right, he went left and was preparing to stun the closest man with a skrill blast when someone stepped out from behind the van and shot him with a rifle.
Hardly registering the blow, Boone completed his shot, dropping one of the men in his tracks. He began moving his arm around for a second shot when his legs gave out, dropping him to his knees. Looking down, he saw the tranquilizer dart in his side and realized what had happened just before he toppled over and blacked out.

As Da'an sat on the bed in his chamber and stared at the spot in which William Boone had so recently slept, he summoned all the considerable resources of his mind and began playing out every possible scenario which could be undertaken in the rescue of his friend. Into his calculations, he threw a great deal of his implant's own brand of subterfuge. What he had learned from William Boone would prove essential to the success of the plan he was forming.
Fifteen minutes later, he rose and made his way through the audience chamber and from there, to the upper-most chamber of the embassy. A transport device had been recently installed in the room and he wasted no time in activating it and stepping inside.
As soon as he emerged upon the mother ship, he dropped his human facade. Confident that none of his people would question his presence, he made his way to the research labs.
Within the half hour, he had retrieved the devices he had sought and returned to his own chamber in the DC embassy. Time was of the essence if he were to prevent Boone and Marquette from unwittingly giving themselves away...and yet he was not in possession of the final, essential bit of knowledge...
Approaching the wall between his chamber and Agent Sandoval's, he placed his and palm down in its center. The wall instantly opened, allowing him to step through , into his implant's room.
It was currently four eighteen in the morning and the FBI agent was profoundly asleep on his back. Slowly, Da'an moved to stand beside him and placed his hand upon the sleeping implant's head.
"Agent Sandoval?" he asked in a soft, soothing tone.
"Yes, Da'an?" Although Sandoval's eyes remained closed, he spoke clearly, as though he were fully awake.
"You were about to tell me where Commander Boone is being held," he prompted.
"Of course. Excuse my absent-minded-ness today - Beckette was just telling me...."
"The location?" he interrupted, not wishing to know the implant's dream.
"Boone and Marquette are being held in the basement area of the Vandewater facility," Sandoval instantly answered. "The location is wonderful in its simplicity, don't you think?" He sighed as he admired Zo'or's plan all over again in his dream.
Da'an withdrew his hand and quickly returning to his own chamber, closed the wall. In the morning the implant would probably not even remember Da'an's appearance in his dream...
Dawn would arrive in little over an hour and a half. The city's transportation system would be in full swing.
It was time to call his contact.

Sahjit sat bolt upright on his cot when his global began beeping. Since dropping out of society and beginning his life as a fugitive from the Taelons and the Taelon-run FBI, it had become his private telephone and pager.
Expecting the call to be from Augur or Door's, he was shocked to find Da'an facing him on the screen.
"Something went wrong with the incursion." Sahjit stated with some certainty.
"Indeed. If we do not act quickly, I fear that both Boone and Lili will be lost to us."
"What can we do? Do you have a plan?"
"I do, however, it would not be prudent to continue our current conversation. Please arrange a place where we may meet."
Sahjit felt his eyebrows trying to disappear into his hairline. Was the companion really willing to meet somewhere without his customary escort?
"Will you be coming alone?" he asked. At the Taelon's affirmative nod, he blurted out the only adequate location he could think of. "Will you be able to arrive without attracting unwanted attention? We can't afford to have a shuttle touching down in the neighborhood."
"I assure you that I shall not draw unwanted attention to myself. Expect me within the hour," Da'an responded before cutting the link.
Sahjit ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. Finally convinced that it all wasn't just a bad dream, he hoped off the cot and flew into the adjourning room.
"Augur!" he shouted as he pulled the covers off his host. "Wake up! Quickly!"
Augur lifted his head and stared at the clock next to the bed. "Are you crazy?" he asked. "I only just went to bed and hour ago!" Dropping his head back don and covering it with a pillow, he mumbled," I knew I should never have allowed you to bed down in my walk-in closet."
Sahjit pulled the pillow off his head. "We are about to have a very important visitor," he explained.
"Who?" Augur rolled onto his back. "Who did you invite to my abode without consulting me first?"
Sahjit snorted and made for the door. "I need to take a shower. We'll discuss it when you're fully awake."
Behind him, he heard the techno-wizard cursing softly.
Five minutes later, the shower curtain was abruptly pulled aside as Augur's grim face intruded on his privacy.
"OK, I'm awake," he groused. "Who's coming here?"
Sahjit finished shampooing his hair and leaned back to let the water rinse his head clean. "Da'an," he answered truthfully.
"WHAT!!??" Augur dropped his coffee mug. "Are you insane!!? Do you know what the Taelons could do to me if he tells them what I have stashed here??" Without further word, he reached over and flushed the toilet, making a self-satisfied exit as he heard Sahjit's accompanying shriek.

After contacting Sahjit, Da'an attached one of the devices he had procured from the mother ship to his collar, picked up some US currency which he kept in his desk drawer, and placing it, along with the second device, within a zippered compartment of a shoulder tote. Slinging the tote over one shoulder, he made his way out to the gardens. There, he took a leisurely stroll toward the garden's periphery, which was separated from a main thoroughfare by some hedges. Stepping off the path, he walked along the hedges, inside the garden until he was obscured from view of the embassy by the trunk of a large tree.
Reaching up, he activated the device.
It was an attractive, willowy woman in a flattering pale blue dress who stepped out from behind the trunk. The wind made her long, dark hair flutter behind her as she quickly backtracked to the garden exit and stepped out onto the street.
Making her way down the street for a block or two, she drew friendly stares from the early morning commuters, because of the simple joy she seemed to take in her surroundings. Coming to a halt at a bus stop, she boarded the next bus to pull up.
Da'an rode the bus for several miles, disembarking at a large office complex, where he quickly flagged down a cab. The temptation to walk the city streets and enjoy this small freedom was overwhelming, but Boone's life depended upon his haste.
Having given the taxi driver the address he had gotten from Sahjit, Da'an sat back in his seat and watched the scenery go by.

Augur and Sahjit exchanged surprised looks when a slim woman carrying a shoulder tote emerged from the cab which had just pulled up.
"Who the hell is she?" Augur asked as the taxi roared off and the woman approached the warehouse entrance. Sahjit simply shrugged and watched the monitors.
The woman stopped outside the warehouse door and stared it up and down, before turning and looking left and right. Seeing nobody watching her, she tested the handle and finding the door unlocked, opened it. Peering into the dim interior, she hesitated and then called out.
"Sahjit Jinnah?"
Sahjit suddenly straightened up and peered closely at the monitor. "My God..." he whispered.
"What is it?"Augur asked, alarmed by his friend's reaction.
Sahjit pointed at the screen as the woman began making her way towards the rear of the warehouse, where the entrance to Augur's living quarters and lab was.
"It's him,"he whispered. "I don't know how he did it, but that's...Da'an!"
"WHAT?!" Augur literally did a double take.
"I know it sounds incredible, but after our last meeting I'd recognize that voice anywhere - even if it IS pitched a bit higher so that it sounds female." Without another word, he stood and moved towards the door, intent on meeting their guest.
"Wait." Augur grabbed Sahjit's forearm and stopped him. "Let's not jump the gun. Let her...er...him enter the scanning area."
As if sensing the trap, their visitor stopped outside the outer door and seemed unwilling to advance any further.
Sahjit grabbed the microphone and spoke into it. "I am aware of your identity, but my associate requires more in the way of assurance. Please step inside. I give you my word that you won't be harmed."
With a nod, Da'an advanced and soon found himself trapped in a very small room, between two locked doors. Patiently, he waited for his hosts to complete their scans.
Augur and Sahjit watched the readouts on the screen with interest.
"There!" Augur pointed at an electronic signature on his display. "It's some sort of highly advanced holographic imagery. I remember Boone talking about James Pike's use of a perfectly realistic three dimensional representation of himself. Even standing right next to it - Boone couldn't tell it wasn't really Pike!"
"As I remember, Will also used the same technology to project a false image of Da'an and thereby trapped Pike," Sahjit reminded his friend.
The two experts examined the thermal depiction of their visitor, which confirmed his identity. As if sensing that his true form had been revealed, Da'an reached up and turned off his device.
"Please enter," Augur invited him, as the doors unlocked.

Boone awoke on an old cot and immediately became aware of three things; That it was very dark, for which he was grateful because of his second realization - that he had a terrible headache. Finally, his right arm was agony from the elbow down.
He swung his feet over the edge and sat up, instantly wishing that he hadn't, as a shower of lights seemed to explode behind his eyes and his stomach threatened to empty itself on the floor. Taking several long, deep breaths, he regained his equilibrium and felt his right forearm. He nearly panicked as he confirmed what he had already suspected: that his skrill was gone. A heavy gauze bandage soaked with his blood had replaced it.
The room he was in was musty, damp and judging by the muffling of the sounds he was making, was very small to boot. Rising carefully to his feet, he stumbled forward until he came in contact with a damp cement block wall. Following it around, he located a heavy, well barricaded metal door. There was a bucket in the corner and small table next to the cot, atop which there was a large glass of water.
He quickly downed the water and settled himself on the floor next to the door. Sooner or later someone would be coming in. Maybe he could get the jump on them.
As he waited, he accessed his CVI-enhanced memories of the last few minutes at the facility and tried to make sense of them. Who could possibly have found out about the Taelon experiment and beat him to the institute?
Doors knew about it, true...but he had no cause to have been so secretive - even if he did want to abduct the women. Hell, he knew Boone would oppose such an operation, but to have actually gone ahead without informing any of the DC group...
Unless, of course, he had contacted another group and planned on having the women out of there before he and Lili ever knew what happened to them...
"But why would he lock me up and take my skrill?" Boone mumbled to himself.
And Lili...Where was she? He hoped that she had gotten away, although he knew that chances were good that she was an inmate here too. Wherever here was...

Augur couldn't help but stare at his alien visitor. He had never actually seen the North American Companion in person and it was only just hitting him that he really was standing next to a sentient alien being. Seeing an alien in person was far different from viewing them on the television and he couldn't help but feel somewhat intimidated - although he would rather die than admit to such a thing.
Perhaps realizing the effect he was having on the strangely dressed human, Da'an walked around him and placing his bag upon the table, opened it. He quickly extracted a Taelon/IBM compatible lap top and flipped it open.
Augur was quickly at his side, all confusion and awe of his Taelon guest instantly forgotten. Da'an straightened up and stared at him as though confused by his proximity.
"Please excuse my friend," Sahjit explained. "He's obsessed with all things technological."
Da'an nodded. "Time is of the essence. Boone and Marquette are being held in the basement of the Vandewater Institute by Taelon operatives. The sole purpose of this abduction is to make them believe they are the prisoners of a small faction of the liberation."
Augur's eyes widened.
"I see that you now understand the need for haste. Should they give themselves away..."
"You have a plan?" Augur was suddenly seated at the table before him at full attention.
"I do," the Taelon replied. "Our objective is not to rescue our friends, but rather, to put them in a position from which they may rescue themselves. Failing that, we need only warn them of the deception surrounding them."
"And how do we accomplish this?" the techno-wizard prompted.
"Da'an produced a second device from the tote. It was twin to the one he wore upon his collar. "With these devices and some careful electronic manipulation."
"Electronic deception involving this computer?" Augur questioned. At the affirmative nod he received, he continued. "Are we going to hack into a Taelon system?"
"With the aid of your unique...talents, we are going to rearrange the personnel files in the Taelon abode occupied by Zo'or. He will suddenly gain two new operatives, each of whom possesses level four clearance. It will, of course, appear as though they have worked with him since our arrival on this world."
A smile spread across Sahjit's face. "These two operatives are going to show up at the institute later today," he inferred. "How exactly will we help Boone and Lili to escape?"
Da'an actually smiled slightly. "You and I will enter the facility and locate Boone's skrill. Once it has been returned to him and he has been informed of his circumstances, I have no doubt that he and Lili will soon be free."
"Wait a minute," Augur said, fixing Da'an with a doubtful look. "Why are you going in there? As you know, these holographic devices of yours have only limited usefulness. By the way, I assume that is why your people haven't used them before now... Anyway, your true identity could be easily uncovered. If I go in with Sahjit, at least we'll still look human if our devices fail."
"Dr... Jinnah's face is known to all Taelon operatives," Da'an reminded them. "If his device fails, he will be as vulnerable as myself. I included him, because he volunteered to be my contact. I assumed his voluntary participation in this endeavor." Here he turned to look at Sahjit. "If I have made an error in my assumption, please forgive me. As to why I will be participating...I possess the knowledge which will get us through any unpleasant questioning. Also, this is...personal, as you humans say. I feel obligated to see it through." Fixing Augur with an intense stare, he spoke softly, but ominously. "What makes you think we have not used these devices before?"
Augur was momentarily struck dumb and a glance at Jinnah showed that he too had been floored.
"Look. Lili means an awfully lot to me," Augur admitted, once he had recovered. "Let me go in Sahjit's place. At least my face is a bit more anonymous than his. It'd give me the chance to prove my worth to Lili."
Da'an gave him a strange look. "You need only treat her as you have been and become less selfish to garner her approval," he counciled. While Augur digested the bit of information he had been given, Da'an turned towards Sahjit. "Do you object to Augur taking your place?" he asked.
Realizing that he owed his friend the chance to make good with Lili, Sahjit gallantly agreed. He sat at the table and watched with interest as Augur, with Da'an's guidance and the use of his computer, hacked into Zo'or's N.Y. security grid and began changing the personnel files.
"Won't you be missed?" Sahjit asked as he began looking for flaws in the plan.
"I have taken care of all eventualities," the pale alien replied, as he gently closed the lap top. "Still, it would not be wise for me to be absent longer than absolutely necessary. It is time that we were going."

Now fully awake, despite his position propped up against the wall, Boone's mind was running through all the possibilities he might be facing. One thing had occurred to him which had...something which really gave him cause to worry.
He had been drugged by means of the dart which had hit him in the side. Whatever drug had been used on him had to have been specifically concocted to render him helpless, despite the fact that his CVI afforded him protection from just about any chemical substance. Had they used a nearly lethal concentration of muscle relaxants and narcotics? Would Doors have taken such a chance with his life or had someone else abducted him? Someone with access to the same technologies which had created his CVI in the first place? Surely the Taelons themselves might have developed a drug effective against their own implants.
Then again, perhaps Doors had accessed the drug through Belman...
Just then, he heard feet approaching his door. Quickly, he got into position and tensed.As the door swung open, Boone lashed out with both feet, catching one of his visitors in the shins. With a yelp, the man went down.
Boone instantly got to his knees, swivelled and aimed a fist at the second visitors crotch, but a third man, still out in the hallway, stepped forward and swung a nightstick at him. The stick connected solidly with the implant's jaw, knocking him flat on his back next to the man with the bruised shins.
The light switch, which was apparently out in the hallway, was flipped on, momentarily blinding Boone, who still lay dazed upon the floor.
"John, pick Tom up and get him out of here," came the voice of the man who had hit him. As his associates complied with his order, he leaned down, and grabbing Boone by the scruff of shirt, hauled him further into the cell.
"I wouldn't try anything," the man threatened as Boone struggled to his feet. "I've also got a nasty cattle prod and an inclination to use it."
"Who the hell are you?" Boone asked as he leaned upon the wall behind him and looked his adversary up and down.
The man calmly leaned against the room's opposite wall and regarded his guest. The man's face was rugged, his hair already graying. Boone placed him as being in his early fifties. As tall as Boone and powerfully built, he was dressed in black - the same clothes worn by the group who had taken the women from the institute. The nightstick was back on the belt at his waist and he was non-challantly swinging the cattle prod before him.
"Who I am doesn't really matter," he finally replied. "Who you are - does." The man smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Commander William Boone, Head of Security and Interspecies Relations for our Taelon overlords," he recited. "You are quite the catch, as is your assistant. You are here for the express purpose of giving us information about your masters, and believe me when I say that you'll be staying with us for quite a while."
"You should know that, as a companion implant, I am unable to reveal anything to you," Boone warned.
"Oh, we know all about your CVI," the man grinned in earnest this time. "Even if we can't do anything with you - there's always Captain Marquette. Marine or no, I'm sure we can make things very unpleasant for her..."
Boone was horrified. He had no doubt that he could call upon his enhanced mental abilities to resist cruelties committed against his own person, but he knew he could never stand by and watch them torture Lili.
"Why are you doing this? Are you part of the liberation? You are, aren't you?" Seeing that the man was glaring at him, he continued. "Come on, we both know you have no intention of allowing me or my assistant to leave this place alive. What's the big secret? Do you work for Jonathan Doors? You do, don't you?"
"Whether I do or not is no concern of yours, implant," the man growled, as he backed towards the door. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go greet Captain Marquette.." Knocking twice on the metal door, he called out for John to open it and stepped through. "You just think about what I said. It would be best for all of us if you cooperated..."
The door slammed shut and the lights were flipped off, leaving Boone in the dark with his thoughts...

Agent Sandoval drove up to the Vandewater facility around six thirty and parked in the closest handicapped spot. Everyone here knew his car - nobody would dare have it towed or ticketed.
As he retrieved his jacket from the rear seat and swung it over his shoulders, he breathed deeply of the early morning air. Since his re-implantation, he had begun to appreciate small things, like fresh country air, again. With a tug at his tie, he started towards the main entrance of the Institute. He really wasn't supposed to be here, but he would worry less about the operation once he had assured himself personally of the security arrangements.
He was just opening the front door of the facility, when a black limo pulled up before the entrance. curiosity getting the better of him, he stopped and watched as the driver opened the rear doors for his passengers.
A slim, but well built man in his twenties emerged. He was wearing an expensive deep-blue suit, lavender shirt and tie with a circuit board print. He offered a hand to his unseen companion and in the next instant a shapely leg emerged as she took his hand and allowed him to help her out of the limo.
The woman was slim and wore a form fitting dress of exactly the same blue as the man's suit. Her hair was long and dark and held behind her neck by a silver clip. Stray wisps of it framed a face which caused Sandoval's mouth to drop open.
Her face! Pale, with large hazel eyes, a long, thin nose and ample, shapely lips, she was lovely...and very very familiar to him. His CVI was unable to match her to anyone he knew, but the feeling that they had met was intense.
The two visitors were already ascending the stairs toward him before he was able to compose himself.
"It's a lovely morning, isn't it?" he asked and then mentally kicked himself for sounding like an idiot. Fortunately, both visitors stopped and smiled.
"Agent Sandoval," the woman spoke, in a voice which made Sandoval swear that his knees were turning to jelly. CVI or not, he KNEW he knew her. "Why are you here?" she continued. "Your presence at this facility is a threat to our...project."
It was as though someone had doused him with cold water. "Excuse me," he stammered. "Do I know you? How is it that you know my name?" Getting a hold of himself, he straightened up and glared at them both. "Who are you? Let's see some ID," he demanded.
Each of them quickly produced Taelon security ID cards!
Sandoval inspected each card carefully and could find no sign that they were other than genuine. What really surprised and annoyed him, was that both operatives were listed as personal assistants to Zo'or.
"Dana Desserre and Augustus Endres," he recited. "Personal assistants to Zo'or. Tell me, why have I never laid eyes on you before now?"
"We've been on assignment in California," Endres replied, as he looked down his nose at the Attache. "Perhaps you should have better acquainted yourself with Zo'or's personnel files..."
Barely controlling his anger at being reprimanded by one of lower rank than himself, Sandoval turned to face the other assistant and realized with a start that she was already entering the building behind him.
"Ms... Desserre," he called, as he hurried to catch up with her. By the time he drew even with her, she was striding purposefully toward the central stairway, which led down to the basement. "Where do you think you're going?" he continued.
"I am headed downstairs in accordance with my orders from Zo'or," she commented without even sparing him a glance. "You may check our clearance there, however, I expect you to stay out of my way." She quickly made her way down the staircase with Endres bringing up the rear behind them. At the security door, she swiped her card and punched in a code. She was immediately passed through.
As Sandoval completed the same maneuver, followed by Endres, she rounded on him. We have a perfect reason and right to be here," she said, in a cool, no-nonsense tone. "You do not. Complete your security check of us and leave, else I shall be forced to inform Zo'or of your impertinence."
"Perhaps we should contact him now?" Sandoval threatened as the computer verified the assistants' IDs, as well as their recent reassignment to California.
"Agent Sandoval," Dana smiled. "we both know that Zo'or currently stands before the Synod aboard the Taelon mother ship. If you are willing to risk your position by contacting him, so be it..."
Finally convinced that the visitors were in fact the real thing, Sandoval straightened up and adjusted his tie.
"Please excuse my rudeness," he offered. "I'm sure you realize the importance of confirming your identities."
"Of course," she agreed.
"Would you be interested in having lunch a little later?" Sandoval forced himself to ask. "...It would give us a chance to discuss this...situation," he finished lamely.
Dana stared at him incredulously before turning and heading off toward the surveillance area.
"Looks like you just struck out," Augustus smirked. "Trust me when I say she's not your type...besides, she prefers red-heads." With that, he turned and followed his companion.
Sandoval's eyes squinted in a combination of hatred and suspicion. William Boone could be considered a red-head. A second glance at the retreating Endres reminded him that the assistant also sported red hair. "The arrogant SOB," he muttered under his breath. Concluding that it would be in his best interests to withdraw until he had received Zo'or's approval to be here, he turned and passing through the security check, headed back to his car.

Augur caught up with Da'an as he turned right down a corridor and was about to enter a room on his left. The Companion's fingers flew over an alpha numeric security pad located on the wall next to the doorway.
The door clicked open, allowing them both to enter.
"What is this place? Some sort of lab?" Augur asked, as he began inspecting some of the equipment.
"Yes. It is a combination medical and research laboratory," came the alien's reply. With the device screening and altering his voice, as well as projecting a female image, the companion's voice was now of a mellow, female timbre. "Boone's skrill should be in this area - provided that it was not irretrievably damaged during its removal."
The Companion soon located a small device with a hinged, swing-out lid near the rear of the room.
"Ah," he breathed. "Here it is."
"Is it alive?" Augur peered over Da'an's shoulder as the Companion examined the skrill with a finger. The cold environment inside the box did not seem to affect him.
"It is as well as can be expected," he replied. Closing the box, he moved toward the door. "Come, we must stop by the operations center before we visit our friends."
"The operations center? Isn't that kinda risky?"
"It is, however, it is also necessary that I ascertain who their primary care giver is."
With a shrug, Augur followed Da'an down the hall.

With a curse, Boone threw his shoulder against the metal door of his cell and bellowed at the top of his lungs. "You leave her alone!!! You lousy, cowardly piece of filth!!! I'll kill you!!!"
He had heard a scuffle in the room next door, punctuated by the rumble of the large jailor's voice and Lili's own higher-pitched tones. It was when he had heard her cry out, that he had lost control. Now, as he kicked the door in frustration, he heard nothing at all. Either the interrogation had been brief...or Lili was no longer conscious.
Before he could give in to the urge to start bellowing again, he heard the door to the next chamber open and shut, even as Lili screamed out one hell of a crude put-down. He relaxed slightly as he realized that she had not been badly injured.
The guard's footsteps approached and paused outside his door.
"Don't worry," came the gruff voice. "I'll be getting to you soon enough - but not before I have another round with your neighbor."
"One way or the other, I promise you that you're going to regret this," Boone hissed.
His only reply was a laugh, as the interrogator moved away down the corridor.
Lying on the floor with his mouth near the crack at the bottom, Boone yelled for Lili.
"I'm OK," came the barely discernible reply. "He was only trying to scare me."
"Don't tell them anything...." he yelled back. He was brought up short by the stream of pepper spray which spewed out from under the door, catching him full in the face. Gagging and clawing at his face, he retreated to the cot, where he frantically wiped his face with the sheets.
"No communication!" came a different guard's voice from the doorway. He had opened the door and thrown in a damp towel, before withdrawing again.
Boone blindly dove for the towel, but it was a long time before he was able to breath without coughing.

Dean Neeley was met outside the operations room by his friend, Tom.
"Two of Zo'or's personal assistants are here to question the prisoners," he was warned. "They want to talk to you first..."
"Really?" Dean replied sarcastically. "This ought to be interesting. Stupid di*k-heads probably think they're hot -sh*t, too..." Pushing past his paling friend, he entered the room beyond.
The two visitors rose from the conference table as he approached. Removing his cattle prod and night stick from his belt, he tossed them on the table and smiled inwardly at the way the red-head flinched.
"Something I can do for you?" he asked.
The woman walked around the table and approached him. "You are the one called Dean Neeley?" she asked.
He looked her over. Something about her bothered him...a lot. She hadn't reacted at all to the noise of his sticks hitting the table and now she was standing right before him without giving the slightest impression that she found him intimidating.
"I'm Dean," he admitted.
She made a show of reaching out behind her. After a pause, her associate lifted the cattle prod from the table and handed it to her. Her eyes never left the guard's as she brought the device up between them.
"Do you enjoy using such instruments upon unarmed prisoners?" she asked in a cool, dangerous voice.
Alarms began going off in Dean's head. The woman stood there staring unblinkingly at him, her mouth set in a tight, stern line, absolutely un-cowed by his proximity. She fairly radiated assurance in her personal power.
"Ma am..." he stammered. "I'm just doing what I am required to do in the interests of our project. I couldn't safely enter the cells without it. As it was, I had three men with me when we first entered Boone's and he very nearly escaped."
The woman turned and handed the cattle prod to her associate before turning to face him again. "Kindly escort us to William Boone," she commanded.
Shrinking under her disapproving glare, and certain that he would be hearing more about this from his immediate supervisor, Dean grabbed his night stick and snapped out, "Yes, Ma am," before swiveling around and leading the way back down the corridor.
Cattle prod in hand, Augur gestured for Da'an to proceed him out the door and fell in step behind him.

Leaning his burning face against the cool blocks which made up the cell wall, Boone lay on the floor atop his cot mattress. He had dragged it to the corner of the cell farthest from the door and was now huddled on it thinking dark thoughts and trying to ignore the burning in his eyes.
He had meant what he said about the guard...the man was going to pay for his brutality.
With a jolt, he sat up straight as he heard footsteps approaching his cell door. It was beginning already - the constant interruptions which destroyed sleep and peace of mind. If he was to have any chance of escape, it wold have to come quickly, while he could still think straight.
Stepping off his mattress, Boone came to his feet as the door swung open. The interrogator poked his head in and glared at Boone before withdrawing and allowing someone else to enter.
"Please remain outside, Augustus," came a female voice, as the new visitor's feminine form was silhouetted against the light from the corridor behind her. "You are dismissed, Mr... Neeley," she added coldly as her unseen companion handed her the cattle prod.
Boone squinted against the glare and tried to make out her features. She sounded awfully familiar...
With a click, the light came on in the room, hurting Boone's already swollen eyes. As he had feared, his eyesight was blurry and un-focused - the result of swelling from the pepper spray. Still, he squinted against the glare and tried to focus on his visitor's face as the door swung shut behind her.
She looked like...
She reminded him of...
Course, she WAS carrying a cattle prod...
With a growl, he flung himself at her. Grasping her by the collar, he swiveled around and slammed her down flat on the mattress. In the scuffle, she lost her grip on the cattle prod and it skittered harmlessly across the floor. Cocking his arm back, he was about to K.O. her when she spoke.
"Boone!"
Boone's eyes snapped back to her face. With a shock he realized that he was holding Da'an down by the neck! Fearing for his sanity, he pushed himself back so that he stumbled and fell onto his rump. All he could do was sit there and stare as Da'an pushed himself up onto his elbows and stared back.

As the door closed behind him, Augur looked down the hallway and waited for guard Neeley to turn the corner. As soon as he was out of sight, and Augur was sure that the guard who watched the entrance to the hallway was seated behind his desk and out of line of sight of the cells, he moved to the door to Lili's cell. He flipped the light switch on, and not wishing to get himself trounced, readied himself to turn off the hologram as soon as he had stepped inside.
"Lili," he said, as he cracked the door open. "It's me - Augur. Move away from the door." Hoping that he had bought himself the time he needed to drop his disguise, he slipped inside and flipped the device off.
She was next to him in an instant. "Augur? How did you... I thought you looked..." With a sigh, she threw something large and heavy behind her onto the mattress.
Augur realized with a start that it was one of the metal cot legs.
"How did you get in here?" she hissed.
Bringing his palm up to cup her left cheek, which had a hand-shaped bruise on it, he spoke, "Lili. Your face...are you?"
"Confused by the concern in his voice, she pushed his hand away. "I'm all right,"she said more harshly than she had meant to.
"Look, I don't have time to hang around," he explained. "I came in with Da'an - he's next door with Boone right now. Both of us have holographic disguises. What you need to know is that this is a Taelon set-up. They're trying to make you believe you've been captured by the resistance in the hopes that you'll blow your cover."
Lili turned pale. "It's a good thing you told me this. I was starting to believe that it was the liberation who had us..."
"I can't stay. I've gotta get back outside before anyone notices the door's open," Augur admitted nervously. "Stay put. Don't talk. Boone should be able to get you out of here soon enough." Hardly believing what he was doing, he suddenly caught her by the back of the neck and pulled her to him for a brief kiss. Reaching up and flicking her nose, he smiled at the startled look on her face. "I'll cook you dinner when you get back," he promised, as he reactivated his device and slipped out the door.
Closing the door behind him, he left the light on and moved back to the entrance to Boone's cell.

"Da'an?" Boone whispered as he continued to try to focus on the face four feet from him.
The Companion moved nearer to him, and peered closely at his face. "It is me, William. Your face..."
"Pepper spray at point blank range," he explained. "I can't see very well. Sorry..."
Da'an's face actually looked grim. "I am to blame for this. I sent you into a trap - one set to test your loyalty and that of Captain Marquette to the Taelon race."
"How did you get in here? How did you change your appearance and voice?" Boone knew he had gotten off subject, but he couldn't help it. He was so shocked by the ease with which his companion had infiltrated this place.
"Later, Boone," Da'an replied as he rose and retrieved the cattle prod. "Your captors wish you to believe that you are prisoners of the resistance. The goal is to try and coerce you into admitting you are a liberation operative." Opening the end of the cattle prod, Da'an quickly disconnected a wire and held it out so that Boone could see what he had done. "The next time Mr.. Neeley enters your cell, he will be far less dangerous. Once you have subdued him..."
"I'll have a weapon." Boone grinned.
Reaching down with both hands, Da'an helped his implant regain his feet. "Even now, Augur is next door explaining the situation to Lili."
"Augur? You succeeded in dragging Mr.. Me out here?"
"He was concerned for her," Da'an explained. "Boone, I haven't the time to stay much longer. Take my hands again and clear your mind."
Doing as he had been asked, Boone picked up a flurry of images from his friend. An image of his skrill, a flashback showing the way to the lab and the exit, even the access and security codes were relayed to him in the span of mere seconds.
"We're in the basement of the Vandewater Institute?" he asked incredulously as the link ended.
Da'an nodded. "You understand what you must do? Can you see well enough to make the attempt?" he asked with some concern.
"Don't you worry about me, Da'an. Worry about getting yourself and Augur out of here. I promise that Lili and I won't be long behind you." Now that he had the crucial information he needed, Boone was ready to go. He could barely wait for his next visit from Mr.. Neeley...
"Then, I hope to see you this evening in my audience chamber," Da'an acknowledged as he reactivated the device on his collar. Stepping back towards the door, she rapped on it twice with the cattle prod.
Before the door swung shut behind her, a red-headed man in a blue suit poked his head in.
"Don't keep us waiting long, Boone," he said in a voice reminiscent of Augur's.
"Don't worry - I won't," he replied.

Da'an and Augur made their way back to the control room, where Da'an returned the cattle prod to the tall, gray-haired interrogator.
"I am appalled that the prisoners have not yet been fed," she said as she stared directly into his eyes. "May I remind you that your charges are high-ranking Taelon operatives. William Boone is head of Taelon security. I should not like to be in your position, should he be found loyal to his Companion. As it is, I believe this will prove the case..."
Leaving it at that, she made her exit with Augustus Endres at her side.
Behind them, a very pale Dean Neeley dropped his cattle prod.

The limo was still waiting for them when they emerged from the Institute. Before Da'an and Augur had settled themselves inside, the cyber-wizard had told the driver that their destination was the Taelon Embassy.
Now he sat back and watched as Da'an retrieved the global he had stashed beneath the seat. Dropping his disguise, the North American Companion opened the device and beeped his attache.
"Agent Sandoval," he said, as the handsome asian's face appeared on his global. "I have heard that you were recently at the Vandewater Institute. Was something the matter?"
"Yes, Da'an, I was there," he admitted uncomfortably. "Nothing was wrong - I was merely checking to make sure the security was adequate."
"Commendable," he responded. "What is your current location?"
"I'm in Boone's office." Seeing his companion tilt his head in a way which, in a Taelon, usually denoted surprise, he explained. "I am merely seeing to it that his appointments are being kept by his staff and his itinerary is being fulfilled. I wouldn't want the work here to pile up. It wouldn't look good."
"Very well," Da'an responded. "Please carry on." The Companion cut the link leaned back in his seat.
"At least you didn't have to send him on an errand," Augur commented.
"Yes. It is most fortunate that he is not currently at the embassy." Turning his head, Da'an fixed Augur with his bluer-than-blue eyes. "When we arrive, you will accompany me to my audience room, after which you may return to this vehicle and depart," he explained. "I thank-you for your assistance in this endeavor."
"For what it's worth...I now believe Boone," Augur offered in an uncharacteristic display of honesty. "You ARE to be trusted. It was my pleasure to assist you."
"It...your trust..is worth much, Augur." the Companion actually smiled. "Please convey my gratitude to Dr.. Jinnah as well."
"I will. Hey! You left your computer at my place. May I keep it?"
"It was my intention to make you a gift of it," Da'an said, an amused look on his face. "Please use it wisely."
"It's the only way I know to use such technology," Augur smirked.
Twenty minutes later, the limo pulled up in front of the embassy.
The driver was extremely startled when the North American Companion and his attache emerged.
"This involves Companion security," the attache warned him. "Not a word to anyone about what you've seen!"
"Yes sir!" he instantly responded.
"Wait here. I'll be back in a moment," the attache ordered.
"Yes sir!" the driver again answered, as the Companion and his aide moved away and entered the structure. Everyone knew better than to cross Agent Sandoval...

Not thirty minutes after Da'an's departure, the door to Boone's cell opened, admitting the man he had kicked in the shins earlier that morning. The man - whom the interrogator, Neeley, had referred to as Tom, placed a breakfast tray upon the small table next to the cot as Mr.. Neeley looked on. He quickly withdrew and the door was slammed shut behind him.
Disappointed that he hadn't had a chance to 'talk' with Neeley one-on-one, Boone took the tray back to his mattress on the floor and settling down, dug in. When he got his skrill back, he would be in desperate need of the extra energy.

Returning to the DC embassy, Zo'or wasted no time in entering the audience chamber. He would never forgive Da'an for having turned down his generous offer to join with him and he relished every chance to annoy the North American Companion.
Now that Da'an had been deprived of his prized human companion, it would be a simple matter to prey upon his insecurities...
It was therefore, with some disappointment, that he discovered his rival reclined in his chair while a stream of blue energy - their source of nourishment - flowed around him. Not even he would be so rude as to interrupt a Taelon during the time they were resting.
Zo'or waited a few moments in the hopes that Da'an would acknowledge him, before giving up and turning to quit the room. Perhaps he would see to the fetal implantation program instead. The six females patients whom they had transported to the mother ship the previous day, were due to offer up the precious lives they had nurtured for the last three weeks.
It was an event which he rarely missed - after all, one of the new lives about to be awakened might possibly be related to himself...
He spared one last sneer in Da'an's direction. Surely, his refusal to participate in the project was proof of his perversion. How could he not wish to reproduce? He actually considered the program an abomination and had said so before the Synod!
"So be it...who would want this one's traits to be passed on anyway!" he hissed aloud as he left.

Da'an and Augur barely avoided Zo'or by ducking into a chamber to the left and allowing him to pass down the central corridor and on towards the shuttle bay.
"Good thing your friend likes to talk to himself," Augur whispered, as he leaned in close to his alien companion.
"He is not my friend," came his reply. "It would be best if you were to leave now," he added.
Giving the Companion a quick pat on the back, Augur turned and backtracked towards the exit without further word.
Thirty seconds later, Da'an entered his audience chamber and cut off the holographic image of himself in the chair before settling himself into it for real. Later, he would return the holograph devices to the mother ship.
There was nothing left to do but wait...and erase all sign that Dana Dessierre and Augustus Endres had ever existed, let alone visited the Vandewater facility. When Agent Sandoval learned of Boone's escape, he would no doubt check the security files again. Finding no evidence that the files ever existed, he would be foolish to admit his error to Zo'or. Chances were that the implant would keep all mention of the two Vandewater visitors to himself.

It was nearly zero nine o'clock when Neeley finally made his fateful appearance in Boone's room. As expected, he had his cattle prod with him,as well as the night stick. The breakfast tray had long since been removed, leaving Neeley with the only weapons in the room.
"So, Mr.. Neeley," Boone spoke up from his position on the floor. "What'll it be this time? Another threat? Some hints as to where I am and who's holding me? Your life story?"
"Funny, Boone," the man glared at him as he spoke. "You just remember my warning about your lady-friend..."
"Let's cut to the chase. What do you want?!" Boone asked as he rose slowly to his feet and moved slightly closer.
In response to his advance, Neeley tapped the cattle prod into the palm of his left hand, a non-verbal threat if ever Boone had seen one.
"Here's the deal," the man rumbled, as he stood before the mattress-less cot facing Boone. "You stumbled into a Resistance operation. Now you're our prisoner. You can prove yourself useful to us...or you can watch us 'hurt' your friend next door." He raised an eyebrow at his prisoner. "When we're done with your friend, we'll start on you. Heck, I'm actually looking forward to finding out just how much pain an implant can tolerate before he slips into a state of shock..."
Even as he tensed, Boone slowly closed his eyes. It was a trick he used to prevent himself from telegraphing his moves to his opponent. Letting his breath out slowly, and projecting an air of calm unconcern, he spoke.
"Well, now. If you want to know what I THINK..." He lunged forward as Neeley brought the stick around and made contact with his chest. With a sideways blow, he knocked it aside and then brought his elbow up under the interrogator's chin.
"it's THAT..." he continued his sentence as he wrestled the cattle prod away from his opponent. The man made a move for the nightstick on his belt, but Boone had already brought his left arm around and snatched it out of its belt loop.
"you're not going to... BE..." Grasping the other end of the night stick as it slid free of the guard's belt, Boone used both arms to slam it upward into the underside of Neeley's jaw. With a crack, the man fell over backward onto the cot.
"doing this routine again anytime soon," Boone finished before pausing to catch his breath. Retrieving the make-shift ropes he had fashioned from torn bed sheets from where he had hidden them under the mattress, he gagged and bound the unconscious guard.
Swiftly rewiring the cattle prod, he moved over to the door and knocked on it twice. Thankfully, the cells were relatively sound-proof and the struggle had been over almost before it began.
As soon as Tom opened the door, Boone stunned him, wincing in sympathetic pain as the man collapsed. He was quickly dragged inside and trussed up as well. For good measure, Boone tied one man to the cot and the other to the mattress in order to prevent them from loosening each other's bonds after they awoke.
Keys in pocket, cattle prod in hand, Boone peaked outside, and assured that the man on duty down the hallway could neither see him nor suspected anything was amiss, began moving in that direction with his back flat against the wall. Once he was within a few feet of the sentry's line of sight, he took a guess as to who it was, and yelled, "Hey, John! You'll never guess what happened..."
"What now..." the man asked, as he began to come around the desk.
Before he could do more than register that Boone was free, he had been zapped unconscious by the cattle prod. Dragging him down the hall, he was deposited, mummy fashion, along with his friends in Boone's cell. Boone then moved next door and used the keys in the lock to Lili's cell.
"Lili," he called out as he stood back and flung the door open. Good thing, too, for in the instant that he jumped back, a cot leg came flying out into the hallway.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!!" he cried out, cringing at the noise the metal tubing made as it bounced off the wall and skittered across the floor. "It's me!!!"
"Boone!" she exclaimed as she appeared next to him in the doorway. "What took you so long?!"
"Your face!" He ground his teeth together as he took in the bruise on her cheek.
"My face! What about yours?" Seeing that he was getting antsy, she dropped the subject. "Come on, blast a hole in the wall and let's get out of here!" she encouraged him.
He held his bandaged arm up. "Sorry, I'm still skrill-less."
Lili's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. "I thought that maybe they had restrained you! What are we gonna do?"
Boone smiled. "We're going to retrieve Condor, and then we're going to take over this facility."
Lili laughed as they began to move off down the corridor. As they turned the corner, she caught the serious look on his face and sobered.
"You're serious, aren't you?"
"You bet I am."

Doors rubbed his face with his hand and then slouched further down in his chair. His eyes looked decidedly bloodshot.
"Let me get this straight," he said, as he drummed his fingers idly on the table top. "Da'an called Sahjit and told him Boone and Lili had walked into a trap. Sahjit invited him to Augur's place. Da'an then showed up looking like a human woman. He...she...it...helped Augur hack into the Taelon's New York database and then Da'an and Augur disguised themselves as Zo'or's assistants and broke into a Taelon facility to help make it easier for Boone to break out."
There was dead silence around the conference table as everyone focused their attention on Sahjit and Augur.
"Did I get that right?" Doors asked as he leaned his cheek on his fist.
"Yeah, you got it," Augur nodded.
"Look," Sahjit broke in. "This is proof that Boone is right - Da'an can be trusted." Seeing Doors roll his eyes, he hurried on. "He didn't have to come alone, and he certainly didn't have to show Augur how to hack into a Taelon security system."
"Hey, he let me keep the computer," Augur offered.
Giving his friend a quick warning look, Sahjit continued. "We really need to consider that Boone may be right about him not wanting the human race to come to harm at the hands of his own people."
Doors sat up straight. "This proves no such thing," he responded. "First off, Boone and Lili aren't out of the woods yet. Secondly, even if they get away, what exactly does this mean? I'll concede that Da'an may have a soft spot for Boone - maybe for Lili as well. He obviously is attached enough to them to risk is own life on their behalf, however, this does not mean that he's willing to risk it all for the human race in general."
Doors stood up. "For now, we watch and wait for word about Boone and Lili. I'll have some of our people keep watch outside the embassy." Without another word, he turned and quit the room.
Conversation around the table immediately kicked up with his departure.
"Don't worry, Sahjit," Augur offered. "Everyone will be talking about out new acquaintance now. It's only a matter of time before they all start coming around to our way of thinking."
"I suppose you're right. If we've made it clear that he mustn't come to harm, then at least we've accomplished something."

As soon as they entered the laboratory, Boone made a beeline for the stasis box which contained his skrill as Lili secured the door behind them.
"How'd you know where to find it?" Lili asked curiously as she noted all the equipment in the room.
"Da'an showed me everything I needed to know..." he trailed off, not wishing to remind Lili of her resolve not to 'share' with the companion ever again.
"I see..." She trailed off as Boone unwrapped his arm and settled his skrill in place.
"OK, little guy," he encouraged the symbiote. "Try to use the holes that are already there, would you?"
Lili winced as the skrill did just that, causing Boone to double over slightly and bite his lip. As he stood there catching his breath, she reached over and rubbed his back. "That's gotta hurt!" she sympathized.
"My CVI makes it bearable," he admitted. "...just."
"How long do you need?" she asked.
"I'll be ready to test it out in just a minute," he replied as he straightened up and sighed. Less than twenty seconds later, he pivoted and shot the box the skrill had been in. It rocked slightly, hardly disturbing the dust on the counter top.
Lili raised an eyebrow.
"I meant to do that," Boone informed her with a smirk, before firing a second shot. This time the box instantly vaporized. "We're good to go," he announced. "I'll tag em. You bag em."
"You sure know how to show a girl a good time," she smirked as she followed him from the room.

Sandoval had only just greeted Da'an upon his return from Boone's office, when his global beeped.
"Excuse me, Da'an," he said, as he turned his back towards the Companion and answered the call.
It was with a profound sense of shock that he found himself confronted with the irate face of Commander Boone.
"Boone!" The name was wrung from him.
Instantly, Da'an opened a data stream, which displayed Boone's three-dimensional image in the center of the room facing him. "Boone. Please state your location," he demanded, with a sideways glance at Sandoval.
"I would appear to be in the basement of the Vandewater Institute," he said in a sarcastic tone. "Captain Marquette and I have been held against our will by some people who claimed to be a faction of the liberation..."
"How did you get free?" Sandoval interrupted.
"Outwitting them proved to be a simple matter," he stated, knowing that it would anger the other implant. "...and once I had reclaimed my skrill, Lili and I took over the complex." Seeing the incredulous look on the attache's face, he went in for the kill. "Funny thing is," he rumbled dangerously. "that once we had a chance to look around, we discovered we were being held by Taelon operatives..."
Sandoval snapped his head around to find Da'an staring at him with a grim look upon his face. Closing his global, he allowed the Companion to take over the conversation.
"You have done well, Commander," he soothed. "I will send Agent Lassiter out to retrieve both of you. Rest assured that this matter will be looked into." Seeing his implant nod his understanding, Da'an wasted no time in cutting the transmission and addressing his attache.
"See to it that Lassiter and some of his guards are dispatched. He is to escort Boone and Marquette here. Until they arrive, I've no need of you," he said.
Looking like a whipped puppy, Sandoval quit the room.

Lassiter and four of his guards arrived in at the Vandewater Facility shortly before fourteen hundred hours. Passing the security gates, the level four operative made his way to the main command center. What he found there caused him to grin...actually, he had to stifle a laugh.
"You find something amusing, Lassiter?" Boone called from across the room. He was rinsing his eyes out at a sink.
Moving to meet the Security Chief, Lassiter schooled his features. "No sir. Of course not," he managed, as his smile faded. No less than seven Taelon operatives were laid out in neat rows, each of them wrapped up in items ranging from electrical cords to bed sheets.
Boone actually snickered as he looked around and imagined the scene from the agent's point of view. "I suppose it is rather amusing," he admitted, overjoyed to find that at least one Taelon servant had retained a sense of humor.
"Where's Captain Marquette?" Lassiter looked around as he regained control of himself.
"She went back to my cell, to keep an eye on the three we left there," he replied.
"The guards will take over from here." Lassiter announced. "Da'an was very specific in his instructions. You and the Captain are to report to him immediately."
"Believe me, I have quite a bit to discuss with him..." Boone mumbled, drawing a speculative look from the agent.
With a shrug, Lassiter quickly directed two of his men to fetch the captives in Boone's cell and send Marquette back to the command room.

Entering the embassy's main audience chamber twenty minutes later, the three operatives immediately greeted Da'an with their right hands to their chest and their left hands extended outward, palm up. Sandoval was standing at his customary spot next to the right side of Da'an's chair.
"You may return to your office, Agent Lassiter. Agent Sandoval, please remain," Da'an spoke as he descended from his chair and moved to stand before his implant and his pilot. "It pleases me to have you back so expediently...and in relatively good condition," he said as he stopped just before Boone.
"I believe that I speak for both of us when I say that Lili and I are happy about it too." Boone fought to keep his face a blank. He desperately wished to talk with Da'an about the amazing risk which the companion had taken, and yet, he knew it would have to wait.
Lili spoke up. "Da'an, who was responsible for this ill-conceived test of our loyalties?"
The North American Companion immediately turned toward her, a disapproving look visible on his face. Boone knew the look was for Sandoval's benefit - Da'an could not afford to ignore the impertinent interruption in the Agent's presence. Unfortunately it seemed that Lili didn't realize this. The normally tough Marine was biting her lip and looking like she wished she could disappear.
Boone knew that she now yearned for the Companion's approval and friendship. After the time she had spent with him, and their sharing, how could she not?
Boone looked on as Da'an moved to stand before Lili.
"Rest assured that the one responsible shall explain himself before the Synod this day. I too, shall be present to make my displeasure at this violation of my own...household...responsibilities known." Reaching out, the Companion covered the mark on Lili's cheek with his own hand. "I am sorry for your wounds," he said in a low tone, to both of them. "I fear that I am partially to blame."
As Sandoval stood there gawking at the Companion's personal apology, Lili covered Da'an's hand with her own.
"Da'an, it wasn't your fault! You couldn't have known..."
"I should have guessed," he replied as he withdrew his hand, and turning his head, looked directly at Sandoval. "Zo'or is becoming predictable in his duplicity as are his...associates."
Boone looked directly at the Agent as well, wanting to add his silent censure to the chastisement he had just received from the Companion he was supposedly serving. Sandoval stared back defiantly, however his face was far paler than usual, and his mouth had a tight, wounded look about it.
He was really beginning to worry Boone, who had the feeling that his fellow implant was being torn apart by some sort of emotional turmoil. There was little doubt in his mind that Sandoval's imperative had him in some sort of unbearable conflict and that if something wasn't done soon...he would self destruct.
Da'an next moved to stand before Boone. For several seconds they merely looked at each other. Finally the Taelon spoke.
"Please report to Dr.. Belman so that she may ease the discomfort you are experiencing. I have already informed her that you shall be arriving. I wish assurance that you will suffer no lasting ill effects from your ordeal."
"I'm fine, Da'an. I doubt that this is necessary," Boone said, although inwardly he was please by the concern being shown.
"Please comply with my wishes in this matter," Da'an responded, as he smiled ever so slightly at his implant.
Boone nodded his agreement as Da'an turned and walking back to his chair, assumed his seat.
"It is my wish to see you later this evening...once you are rested and feeling better." Da'an announced. With a hand to his chest and the other held outward, he dismissed them.

"You want what?" Doors asked as he leaned forward across his desk. "You're crazy!"
"Look, Jonathan," Boone said, as he placed both palms on the front of Doors' desk and leaned his weight on them. "I think you already know that we cannot afford to allow anything to happen to Da'an. Despite the fact that he's a Taelon, he also happens to be in a position where he can do a lot for us - even if it's only feeding us information. You're not the kind of man to turn his back when opportunity comes knocking..."
"So, you want to inform the other branches that he's sympathetic?" Doors leaned back in his seat and picked at his fingernails. "That in itself could be risky."
"We needn't tell them everything - only that we have very good reason to believe that he is attempting to protect the human race. We should council the others to do their best to keep him out of the line of fire, so to speak."
"I agree."
Boone blinked twice in surprise.
"I know you thing I'm a real SOB," Doors rasped. "Well, you're right, but I assure you that I am acting only as I believe is best for the human race." The millionaire rose and walked around the desk as Boone straightened up. "I was impressed that Da'an did what he did for you and Lili. Very impressed. He's shown good faith and therefore I see no reason not to show some ourselves - besides, as you said, it would be a waste of a good resource."
"Does he get a direct line in?"
"Don't push your luck." Doors moved towards the office door, which he held open for Boone. "Come on, let's get the information out."
As the two of them moved through the main conference area, they passed Lili and Augur, who were seated at one of the smaller tables.
"How did that happen to his face?" Augur asked quietly as he wrinkled his nose. "It looks pretty painful..."
"He got some pepper spray full force and up close," Lili explained as she caught Boone giving her a thumbs up. Smiling, she turned to look at Augur once more. "Belman says he's able to basically tune it out with his CVI, but Boone says it just looks worse than it really is...except for his eyes. He says they feel like two over-ripe tomatoes."
"Yep, sounds like something he'd say." Leaning closer, he took hold of one of her hands. "Tell me, about your experience with Da'an..."
She assumed a defensive air. "Yes?" she asked hesitantly.
"What's he like?"
Smiling at him for the first time since her arrival back at HQ, Lili squeezed Augur's hand.
"There's nothing phoney about him," she answered, as she searched for words to describe the alien. "He came here for the very reason he said he did at that fateful news conference where he first met Boone. He came here because he wished to touch our species..."

It was dusk when Boone finally made it back to the embassy. He had showered, changed into a spare set of clothes and caught a nap back at resistance HQ and was feeling much better. Not having wanted to bother Lili, he had caught a cab and had been faintly annoyed that the driver had recognized him.
"He you're that guy who works for Da'an!" the cabbie had said while looking in his rear-view mirror at one of the stop lights.
"I am," had been his short answer.
"What's he like?" The man had surprised him with the question.
Boone's reply had surprised even himself.
"He's just like anyone else," he had answered. "Trying to do the best he can in a difficult situation."
"The taxi driver had nodded. "I got news for ya, pal. Not everyone cares enough to do their best."
"Well, our Companion does," he had answered.
"Then he's OK in my book," had been the reply.
Now, as Boone made his way towards to embassy's front entrance, the cabbie's words caused him to smile.
"What are you smiling at?" Boone was met at the front doors by Sandoval. "You look like hell!"
"It's so nice to see you too." Boone smirked. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"I wanted to talk to you for a moment." Sandoval stopped walking just before they reached the bottom of the central ramp.
Intrigued, Boone nodded. "Go on..."
"First of all...I'm sorry about what happened to you and Lili. Da'an was right in his implication that I knew what was going on, but I assure you that I had no choice in the matter."
"So, do I take this to mean that you trust us now?"
Sandoval sidestepped the question. "At one point, I went over to the Vandewater Institute to see how things were going and I ran into some operatives I had never seen before."
"Did they have clearance?"
"Oh, yes. I checked them out myself." Sandoval gave him a piercing look. "They said that they had been assigned to your case. Did you meet anyone fitting their descriptions while you were there?" He handed Boone a global which displayed a list of physical characteristics.
Boone looked at the global a moment. "The woman did question me," he admitted as he handed the global back. "I don't believe I've met the man."
"What did she ask you?"
"Look, she asked me the same things that Neeley asked me. She also threatened to do all sorts of nasty things to me and Lili if I didn't come to my senses. I really can't tell you anything more." Seeing the thoughtful look on the other implant's face, he continued. "What's wrong? Were they spies? They were really Liberation operatives, weren't they?"
Sandoval actually looked frightened. "It's nothing, really. I was merely curious." Putting the global away, he turned a troubled look on Boone. "I need to get back to N.Y., Boone," he announced, as though he were about to face a firing squad.
Feeling a sudden sympathy for the man, Boone clapped him on the back. "I understand..." he said, truthfully. "Ron...I hope you realize that if there's something you need to discuss...If you have a problem - no matter how big - that I'm the one to talk to."
Sandoval's look was both suspicious and hopeful.
"I'll keep that in mind," he replied before turning and heading towards the shuttle bay.
With a sigh, Boone watched him go and then turned and moved up the ramp toward the audience room. He found Da'an standing upon the the platform ramp which provided a perfect elevated view of the Capitol from the massive virtual glass windows. Moving up the ramp, he stopped next to the Companion.
The two of them exchanged a brief glance before turning their attention to the sunset.
The next fifteen minutes were spent in peaceable silence, until the monuments began to show up brightly against the dimness of the encroaching night.
Boone turned his head and stared at his friend until Da'an looked directly at him.
"Why did you do it?" he asked, knowing that it would be a waste of time to clarify.
Da'an blinked twice and tilted his head. "You know perfectly well the answer to your question."
Boone nodded and smiled. He'd come back to that later, he reasoned as he changed the subject. "Will you tell me what happened when you met with the Synod?"
"Your loyalty is not to be questioned," he offered.
"And Lili?"
Da'an looked troubled. "That matter is yet to be resolved...however, I have taken personal responsibility for her actions."
"Thank-you."
The North American Companion smiled slightly, but soon tilted his head away and looked at Boone from the corners of his eyes. Rather than looking like he was distrustful, his expression seemed to be one of hesitation. "Boone..." he said softly, "Zo'or's reasoning for arranging the test of your loyalty was based upon the fact that you discovered that your memories of Elise Chapel were false. You knew she was our agent, and therefore you did not fear for her safety when you reported her to us... When did you become aware that your memories of her were false?"
Boone turned and stared out the window again. This was a very sore subject with him and the pain he felt when he thought back on it was as sharp as ever, thanks to his CVI.
"I didn't discover the truth until that final evening..."he admitted.
Da'an nodded as though Boone had confirmed something he had already expected. "When you kept her allegiance from us for three days, it was, of course, without any intention of uncovering her contacts." The companion moved closer. "What was this woman to you?" he asked softly.
Boone could feel the muscles in his jaw tightening and struggled to find words to convey the outrage he still felt at the deception he had fallen for. "She was..." he rasped. "...exactly what you meant her to be - my lost love."
"Since our sharing, I am now aware of the strong bonds which form between human males and females under these circumstances," Da'an admitted. "During our sharing...you kept every facet of this event in your life from me. Since today's meeting of the Synod, I have had occasion to ponder this."
He placed a hand upon Boone's ample shoulder and squeezed it gently. "I fear that in allowing the test of your CVI, I caused you much anguish..."
"You have no idea..." Boone's voice was nearly inaudible. Still he stared out the window.
"We have agreed that between us there will be no secrets," came the Companion's soothing tones. "Put away your mask, William and face me...please?"
Feeling naked, Boone did just that.
"Give me your hands." Da'an held his own hands out and grasped those of his implant as they were offered. After a moment of brief concentration, he spoke.
"You loved her. For the first time since your wife's death, you felt that life was good..." Da'an verbalized the feeling and memories he picked up. "When you discovered the truth..."
"It was as though a part of me died again," Boone finished. "To have been used like that...To have betrayed my wife's memory and gotten involved with someone I didn't even know...And - I took a life - the life of a man who was simply playing a part in your scheme!"
Da'an's human disguise was lost as his implant's feelings flooded into his being through their bond. His head turned one way and then the other as he struggled to deal with feelings unknown to his kind for millennia. Finally, he dropped Boone's hands as though burned.
The two of them stared at each other again, with each fighting for composure.
"The masks are off?" Boone asked as he took a deep breath.
"They are," his transparent blue friend affirmed.
"Then I want you to know that I forgive you for that incident. As you said two days ago, we are different than we were. You've risked your life for me and you know I'll do the same for you...but, you must never, EVER bring up the subject of Elise Chapel again. I've never made any demand of you before now. I ask that you honor this - the only one I'm ever likely to make."
The Companion looked agitated and unhappy as he realized the extent of the emotional trauma his friend had suffered in the incident.
"Never again shall I mention it," he said quietly.
Boone nodded and handed the Taelon a folded piece of paper. "Sahjit wanted me to give this to."
Da'an gracefully unfolded it, revealing a sketch of himself in his chair, with Zo'or standing beside him. Before them stood the worse looking Taelon he had ever seen. With a big belly and huge, protruding eyes, he wore white briefs and was eating a drumstick. His and Zo'or's drawn selves were staring at the other Taelon with their eyes popping out of their heads.
The caption read" Zo'or's foray into Human-Taelon hybridization produced dubious results." There was an arrow pointing to the ugly Taelon which led back to his name - Da'oh!
Looking over his friend's shoulder at the picture, Boone suddenly burst out laughing, as Da'an stared at him in confusion.
"It's....it's...." he gasped as he tried to catch his breath. All he could do was point at the picture.
"It is a warning - a political cartoon," Da'an stated as he stared at his implant, who was still laughing hard and fighting for control.
"No....the hybrid.....is a popular....cartoon character.....who is known for.....his incredible stupidity!" He straightened up and began wiping the tears from his eyes as he finally caught his breath. When he looked at Da'an, he saw that the Taelon had refolded the paper and was watching him with a smile on his face - a real, honest to goodness, Taelon tooth-baring smile in a blue, transparent Taelon face! His inner light show which signified mysterious Taelon body functions, was far brighter than Boone had ever seen it. He got the feeling that his friend was happy - truly happy for the moment.
"Tell Dr.. Jinnah that I am in his debt once more," Da'an said as he handed the paper back to Boone. "for his...joke...has given me the opportunity to see the face I most enjoy seeing."
Boone froze and regarded his friend warmly. "Then I must give him the same thanks," he said as he accepted the paper and bowed slightly before making his exit.
Behind him, Da'an stood and watched him go, the smile still lifting the corners of his mouth as his human face reappeared.

FIN