Kristen collapsed into the back seat of the car, water still dripping down her face, trying to catch their breath. She was torn between feelings of triumph, of uncertainty, and of loss.
"That shit you came up with," Jake murmured quietly, "about the wild animals, that was inspired. I had her figured as too cynical to go for anything like that. But you read her right, you did good."
Kristen tried not to feel big headed, and failed. Jake wasn't in the habit of handing out undeserved compliments. "I've been watching, taking notes, learning from a pro."
"From this loser? Sodding miracle you survived." Damon joked.
Kristen managed a smile. In a single day the insecurity had fallen away, she didn't feel like an outsider any more. But the comfort was bittersweet. "We'll never know whether Kal makes it or not, will we?"
"Probably not," Jake conceded gently. "But we gave him the best chance he could have. That's got to count for something."
"So what happens now, girls? We go home, pretend we had a really cool weekend waterskiing? Keep watching the skies for flying saucers?"
Jake hesitated a moment. "Sounds like a plan. But there's one last job to finish first. We keep our promise to Kal, we have to destroy that last transponders. No loose ends, nothing left to be able to prove any of them were ever here."
"Are we sure we should be doing this?" Damon asked uncertainly.
"You okay?" Kristen asked, sensing Damon was far from convinced Jake was doing the right thing.
"There's a galaxy of people like us out there in outer space, and we're letting go, destroying our only link to it. I mean, I know that's what we said we would do. Kal would be in such deep shit if they ever found out he'd helped us the way he did. But it just feels like we're isolating ourselves, we shouldn't have to be alone like this," he tried to explain his doubts.
Jake was pragmatic. "You're right, but, we made a promise. I made a promise. If I make a promise I keep it. No matter what. Even if it hurts me to know what I'm doing."
"That's why we trust you, dude," Damon reluctantly accepted the argument.
"Anyway, you know what, it's enough to know that we aren't alone. There are telepaths like us on other worlds, we're not freaks, we're an inevitable consequence of evolution."
Kristen nodded. "And we know that we've barely scratched the surface in understanding the extent of what we're capable of."
"And we know that the owls are not what they seem," Damon added.
Jake and Kristen stared blankly at him.
Damon tried to defend himself. "Dude, there was a time your mind got scrambled by drugs, you had this strange vision about owls. Weird shit vision, I didn't understand any of it. But Kal's fear of owls, that can't be a coincidence."
"You taking the piss?" Jake asked, sounding worried that for once he couldn't tell.
"Just, you need to watch, you're sounding like you've caught religion or something."
"Just telling you what I think, dude."
"Well, it's scary. You're being scary. Stop it."
"They were your visions Ges-du, dude."
"Right. Blame me." Jake stared back uncomfortably.
Kristen's nerve broke, this was crossing the line into weird even for them. "Er, guys, can we back off now. You're both creeping me out here."
"Sorry." Jake apologized.
"We try not to be creepy, honestly," Damon added. "Just happens sometimes."
Jake tried to change the subject. "So. Who wants to volunteer to go hiking in the rain back to where where the transponder was hidden. Kristen?"
"Me? It's pissing it down out there. I just risked my butt to save Kal. Think I deserve a right to pass on this one."
Jake was practical, "no one else knows exactly where it's hidden."
"But we're all telepathic, so I can show you when you get there."
"She has a point." Damon pointed out.
"Okay, Damon, ur-gisgal."
Kristen caught an undertone in the insult she hadn't been expecting. "Okay, I thought 'ur-gisgal' meant 'dude'. I just worked out it doesn't."
Damon grinned mischievously, then switched moods abruptly to attack Jake. "Don't go pleading that bad leg on me. You managed the hike yesterday well enough."
"You or me then. I'll toss you for it."
John stared disparagingly at Carol who seemed unhelpfully content to continue to sit waiting in the cold and wet. "Well, I don't know about you two," John brushed the dirt off of his hands, "But I intend to wait somewhere dry, somewhere warm, and somewhere I can be sipping a hot cup of tea.
Elizabeth nodded thankfully and stood up to join him, and moments later all three of them were back in the sanctuary of Chris's apartment.
"Tea?" John asked expectantly.
Chris frowned. "Well, great to know I'm still useful for something," he answered, trying not to sound as frustrated as he felt.
Damon was trudging through the mud unhappily. ~How did I draw the short straw? How do I always draw the short-straw Ges-du? My luck should not be consistently this bad, are you doing some dodgy telekinetic trick with the coin?~
~You're exploiting an imperative as an expletive adjective, I'm not sure that's grammatically correct for alien.~ Kristen observed pedantically from the dry and warm sanctuary of Jake's car.
Jake was less offended by the grammar. ~You accusing me of something?~
~Well Ges-dug-usu. And that is grammatically correct.~ Jake responded.
"Shouldn't we have picked something up by now?" Elizabeth was finding the wait intractable.
"The power will be building up, as it does the range will increase. We just have to be patient," John tried to reassure her. He glanced at his watch. Unfortunately she was right, it was taking too long. Why the hell hadn't they heard anything?
John sipped nervously on his tea.
Damon reached down, the transponder was now partly submerged in the dirt. It was cold, wet, and messy.
He was about to grab it when he felt a sensation of pain, not prolonged, not intense, just uncomfortable. There and gone. A sensation he recognized.
~You two getting this?~
~Getting something.~ Jake confirmed.
~The rescue ship, it has to be,~ Kristen chipped in, tears of joy threatening to overwhelm her. ~Should we respond?~
Jake paused for a moment thinking. ~They're here in plenty time, Kal and the others are going to be fine. The sooner you can get rid of the transponder the better, there's nothing much more we can do to help.~
~So we just ignore it then, let them get on with the rescue without us,~ Damon agreed, although without much enthusiasm.
~How easy is it going to be to ignore something like that?~ Kristen asked.
~Three double vodkas should do the trick. And after what we just went through, we deserve it.~
Damon smiled, Jake was reassuringly serious. He reached and grabbed the transponder, trying to remember what Kal had said about deactivating it. He was a little nervous about prematurely triggering the self destruct mechanism in the thing.
"That's odd. I just detected movement, the fourth beacon." Carol stared at the readings with a puzzled look on her face.
Chris was confused. "I thought all four of the survivors were in the hands of the authorities?"
"It could be someone out hiking just randomly found the transponder," Elizabeth suggested.
John agreed. "One of us should go retrieve it, there's no point in leaving it out there now and we don't want it falling into the hands of the saps."
"One of us?" Elizabeth asked.
John realized that the two of them were staring at him. "Alright, I'll go and retrieve it. In the rain."
His apparent lack of enthusiasm disguised an intense desire to get away. He was getting more and more worried by the lack of any response to the distress beacon. The signal was at full power, it was designed to be so irritating that no telepath could ignore it, the response should have been instant. Arguing for patience was little more than an act of denial. It was over, they'd failed, and it was getting harder and harder for John to shield his despair from the others. He needed some distance.
Not that running away would help, but it might give him time to try and work out how he was going to pick up the pieces. Their failure had cost four lives. Dealing with that in the days ahead was going to be hell.
Damon was distracted, out of the corner of his eye he could see a form taking shape nearby. He recognized the yellow fuzziness in the transition that he associated with jaunting. Only he wasn't visualizing, so there was no way it could be Jake or Kristen. He was pretty sure the chances of it being Misako were even more remote.
Damon slowly turned to look. No space suit, didn't look much like an alien. Although, that was a tough call given that he knew aliens could look pretty much like anybody else.
The figure looked a refugee from the 1970s.
Damon stared, and the guy stared back at him in almost as much disbelief as Damon was feeling.
~Guys, got a heads up for you, got some seriously weird shit happening here,~ Damon sent to Jake and Kristen.
~You need help? I can be there...~ Jake responded instantly.
~No, hold back. Do the visualizing thing, though, I might need to get of here in a hurry. I don't know.~
Damon and John continued to stare blankly at each other.
~That's one of the boys we passed climbing Wansfell Pike yesterday.~ Elizabeth sounded incredulous as she materialized to find out why John wasn't answering, why he'd cut this thoughts off so abruptly.
Damon twisted around to see a second figure walking towards him. He took a nervous step back, and tried to hook into the images he was getting from Jake of the car park in Ambleside.
"That object, it belongs to one of... one of four survivors from a crash. An airplane." John tried to explain.
Damon could sense that the guy was lying, he knew it wasn't an airplane. But there was no deception intended, the guy just didn't think anyone would believe the truth. Damon took a gamble and corrected him. "It was an interplanetary passenger shuttle. There were three survivors. Ra-dalhamun died before the crash, from gamma radiation exposure."
"You helped them?" Carol asked.
Damon took a second step back. He hadn't seen her arrive. He was now surrounded on three sides. He kept talking, trying to evaluate his options. This wasn't exactly the rescue team he was expecting, but instinctively he knew that was what these people had to be. "They needed help, we helped. You got a problem with that?"
"Who are you?" John asked.
"Who the hell are you?" Damon fired back, feeling more and more uncertain.
"It's Damon Jackson." Carol told them, studying him carefully. "He looks nothing like the photograph of him that was in the newspapers. Hair's completely different, that's why I didn't recognize him yesterday when we were climbing."
Damon started to freak out. These people knew who he was, no way would an alien rescue team know that. He carefully focussed his mind on the empty car park that Jake could see out of the car window. Four seconds and he could be there.
"Look, just back off. So what if I am Damon Jackson? What the hell does it matter to you?"
John looked across at Carol then back at Damon. He raised his hands slowly, gesturing as if surrendering. He could obviously sense Damon was as jumpy as hell and liable to jaunt out of there at any moment, and he wasn't all that confident they would be able to follow. But why the hell did that matter to him? Damon didn't get it, these people weren't behaving like any rescue team he'd expected.
"We are the rescue team," John explained gently, acknowledging Damon's doubts. "We're responding to the relay beacon. You're telepathic, look into my thoughts and you'll see I'm telling the truth."
Damon was conflicted, he sensed truth but remained unconvinced. Something still didn't add up. "So if you're the rescue team, why are you more interested in me than you are in Kal and the others? That's messed up, isn't it?" Damon challenged them.
"We need to know where they are in order to rescue them, and right now you're the only link we have to finding them." Elizabeth explained.
Damon looked across at her, still not daring to take his eyes off the others. "You've got the transponders haven't you?"
"The only transponder we're getting a signal from is that one you're holding," Carol answered. "Check if you don't believe us."
Damon checked, there were no other signals. Something really was wrong. Again they were telling the truth, but caution had him challenge them one last time. "You're speaking human, not alien."
"We're not human." Elizabeth answered.
"No?" Damon sounded unsure.
"No more than you are." Carol spoke gently.
Damon fell silent.
"Can we at least sit down and discuss this rationally?" John was getting impatient.
"And preferably somewhere out of the rain." Carol requested, smiling sweetly.
~Guys, I'm coming back. I have three people jaunting in with me.~
~Aliens?~ Jake asked, kind of aware it was a stupid question. It had to be aliens.
~I don't think so,~ the response came back from Damon.
Jake exchanged glances with Kristen. What the hell was going on here?
~Guys, exchange glances later. I need you to focus on where I'm jaunting to.~
Jake and Kristen exited the car and ran across the car park to the picnic area. It was still cold and damp, but the table was covered over and out of the rain at least. The three odd characters with Damon were completely not what Jake had been expecting, they were old.
~They have pensioners in outer space?~ he smirked.
~Er, Jake, you might want to think that a little more quietly.~ Damon tried to nudge him.
~Why? Shit, they have telepathic pensioners in outer space?~
John disapproved coldly. "Typical. Youth of today have no respect. And for your information, I'm not from outer space, I'm from North London. Now, If you've quite finished we have very little time, and a great deal to talk about."
Jake stared suspiciously at John, he didn't appreciate being bossed around like that.
Elizabeth tried to counter the frosty stand off with a smile. "I'm so pleased we get to meet you. I'm Elizabeth," she held out her hand.
Jake wasn't exactly sure what to do. All he could sense from her was politeness, which didn't help much. Old people had all these rules of social etiquette that completely baffled Jake, he desperately tried to remember what they did in period movies. He bowed disarmingly and kissed Elizabeth's hand.
Damon sniggered. "That's 1870s, dude, this lot are 1970s."
Carol attempted to complete the introductions but was interrupted by John. "We're wasting time," he pointed out impatiently.
"Right," Jake agreed. "So how about you tell us who the hell you are? If you're from North London then what the hell are you doing chasing after crashed aliens? And if you're the rescue team then what the hell are you doing talking to us? Isn't this supposed to be a closed world?"
"Look, I know what happened to you, I realize you have every reason to be suspicious, but we're here to help. Just hear us out. This planet was our home, fifteen years ago we were forced to evacuate. As for who we are, we're telepaths, the same as you. We called ourselves The Tomorrow People."
"And here was me, thought we were being original," Damon frowned.
Jake shook his head. "No offense, but, well, you seem a bit old."
"I am sure to you everyone who is over the age of twenty must seem ancient, but can we have a little less of the 'old' please." John sounded frustrated.
"What happened?" Jake persisted.
Carol tried to explain. "It's a prion based infection, we don't know how or where it started, but the ecosystem of this planet is now totally contaminated."
"Can you cure it?" Kristen jumped in.
Elizabeth shook her head. "The only way to help Kal and the others is to get them off this planet, and fast. Decontaminate them and in time they'll recover naturally. But there is no cure as such."
"Meaning you're here on borrowed time as well." Damon noted.
"About five or six hours left." Elizabeth confirmed.
"What does it do?" Damon asked.
"It's a protein," Elizabeth continued. "It gets into your system through the food chain and interacts with receptors in the brain related to telepathic and telekinetic abilities converting the proteins related to those activities into a form that's poisonous."
"Encephalopathy?" Damon asked, his biology homework coming back to haunt him.
"Yes." Carol answered. "But specific to telepathic function, which is why it has no effect on the saps."
"The what?" Kristen was struggling to keep up with the barrage of information..
"Saps. What we call Homo sapiens." Elizabeth explained.
"Makes sense," Damon observed wistfully.
Jake smirked, "A lot more polite than what we call them."
"Why doesn't that surprise me." John observed.
Jake gave him a dirty look. "You sound exactly like my mother."
"A little less of your sarcasm, young man."
Kristen ignored the tension between John and Jake. "So why haven't we been infected?"
Elizabeth shrugged. "We have no idea, we had no idea you even existed. A few of us must have had some kind of immunity, but we didn't know about that. We evacuated everyone, even children who hadn't broken out yet. Once we were gone, Tomorrow People born without that immunity factor wouldn't have lived to be more than a couple of days old. Natural selection in action."
Carol took up the explanation. "Those who did have the immunity would grow up normally, No one would know until fifteen years later, when the first of the telepaths born after the evacuation start to break out. And that's you."Kristen was puzzled. "All those people you evacuated, they vanished and no one noticed?"
Carol smiled a slightly melancholy smile. "There were less than a thousand of us world wide. Twice as many people as that die every single day in this country."
"There was a statistical blip in the number of deaths recorded in 1998, but it was sufficiently within the margin of error to be dismissed as non-significant." Elizabeth clarified.
"So you're like us, okay. But what do you want? Family reunion? Group hug? What?" Jake interrupted. The explanations were fine, but he could sense that behind it all John had some unspoken agenda.
"Our first priority is to get the survivors from the crash transferred up to a rescue ship that is currently hiding in orbit." Carol answered.
John broke his silence. "If we can even find them now we've lost the signals from the transponders."
"What, and you're blaming us for that?" Jake was immediately defensive.
"No." Carol jumped in to try and smooth over ruffled feelings. John and Jake were clearly rubbing each other up the wrong way.
"Then we planned to spend what time we had left seeing what we could do to help you out," John tried to sound supportive, unfortunately it came across to Jake as being more than a little patronizing.
Jake controlled his frustration, kept his voice steady. "We're doing very well on our own thank you very much," he noted dismissively.
"No we aren't. We're scraping through every day by the skin of our teeth." Damon had no time for the attempted deception.
~Shut up, will you, we don't want him knowing that.~ Jake started angrily.
Damon shook his head. ~They're not stupid, Jake, they already know.~
"I've seen what you can do, and I'm not all that impressed. Frankly if you plan to survive you are going to have to buck your ideas up," John gave up trying to be diplomatic.
Jake shook his head. "I knew this part was coming. Bloody adults always feel like they have to give advice."
John remained cool and composed. "That's because bloody kids always think they know everything when they don't. You've unlocked only a fraction of what you're capable of. You are the future of this world, but you need to put the brakes on the arrogance and embrace some humility. You have a lot still to learn. And, I'll make this blunt, right now you are too stupid and too juvenile to have much chance of surviving the dangers that lie ahead. You need to grow up, and fast."
"Come on, that is totally unfair." Jake wasn't having it.
"Maybe it is. But you're stuck with it. You have a responsibility to the future whether you like it or not. That is what being Tomorrow People is all about."
"Responsibility to the future, like you did? Running away? Leaving us to fend for ourselves? Great example," Jake started to raise his voice.
"Alright, both of you, enough." Carol could sense tempers frayed on both sides. She found herself looking at Damon for support.
"Jake, we can argue this after Kal is safely off the planet."
"You're right." Jake conceded, but the concession was clearly addressed at Damon alone.
"You'll help us then?" John asked, managing to sound unemotional and businesslike.
"That's what we do." Jake answered curtly. It wasn't conciliatory, it wasn't apologetic. It was stated as a simple fact.
Carol and Elizabeth seemed to be actively conspiring to keep John and Jake apart, and as small and cramped as things were at Chris's nursing home, that wasn't turning out to be such an easy task. Thankfully the urgency of the challenge that faced them left them little time for socializing.
John explained the plan. "Alright, we're going to start at the farmhouse, the last known location of the three transponders. We know the capsules have been moved out, we know they've been moved to a military base, but we also know it can't be all that far away, they'd have kept the distances to a minimum. Our problem is that this base doesn't seem to show up on any of the satellite maps we have of the area. It looks like the government in an unfortunate show of competence has wiped the place off the internet. We have a little over five hours left, time is not on our side. This is a reconnaissance mission, we get in, we look around, find out what we can, then we get out. We can't afford to be spotted, we don't have the resources for a full on confrontation. This is crucial, the only chance we're going to have of getting Kal and the others away will be if we keep the element of surprise on our side. Now one of us is going to have to stay behind here..."
"Why does someone have to stay behind?" Jake interrupted. "Why reduce our effectiveness? It buys us nothing."
Carol moved quickly to explain. "We always leave someone behind, that's standard procedure, in case something happens to the rest of us."
"I suggest Kristen stays," John continued. "She has the least experience jaunting and no experience jaunting long distances with the belts."
Jake could sense Kristen was particularly frustrated with the idea, and he could see why. "I suggest not," he retorted bluntly. "Carol is right, if anything happens, we'll need backup, and Kristen can't be the backup because as John has so helpfully pointed out, she has no experience jaunting long distance without assistance."
The logic was flawless, and John was not happy with it at all. He reluctantly nominated Carol to stay behind instead, leaving Carol furious with herself for having defended the requirement in the first place.
John, however, had been much more receptive to Kristen's suggestion they all go in dressed in environment suits. It would help them maintain the illusion they were all alien in the event anything did go wrong, and John agreed absolutely that preserving the anonymity of Jake, Kristen and Damon was a critical consideration.
Jake frowned. He was sure that if he'd been the one to suggest it then John would have been a lot less agreeable. There was no doubt about it, John was treating him differently to the others. Jake tried to let go of the frustration and focus on the mission.
"Does John have a problem with me? I mean, no, I can see he has a problem with me, what I mean is, what the hell is his problem?" Jake was helping Carol clear more space in the barn so they could jaunt back there with the survivors if necessary.
Carol was trying to be diplomatic, something she was generally good at, but when it came to John she was a little too familiar with his flaws to be completely objective. "He doesn't like it when arrogant youngsters like you tell him he's wrong. Especially on those occasions when he is wrong. And I'm not saying you shouldn't point that out, but you could be more polite about it. And as for your language, Jake, well, call me an old fuddy duddy if you like, but I don't much appreciate that either."
"Sorry," Jake apologized. "I don't swear around my parents, but, my grandfather, he swore like a sailor. Which, might be because he was a sailor. He taught me most of the swear words I know. Except the alien ones. He didn't know any of those. You just remind me more of his generation."
Carol smiled, she couldn't help but like Jake, even if he could be a little arrogant at times. "I was such an idealist when I was your age. Still am I think, try to be anyway. But you're right, old age pensioners is what we are these days. And John is a grumpy old man, but he's been that as long as I've know him. Even when he was your age. I still like him though. You just have to have a little patience with him."
"So you don't mind having to stay behind?"
"Well, yes, I do mind. There was always someone got left behind, usually it was Kenny, and I always felt sorry for him. But John is just trying to be protective, protective of you as well. We didn't abandon you, we didn't know you existed. We were all completely shocked to get back here and find out how wrong we'd been."
"You were shocked?"
"Jake, I don't think you grasp how precious the three of you are to us. We thought we'd failed completely, all our dreams and hopes for the future were finished. Now it's a big unknown again, but that's hopeful. The unknown doesn't have to be bad."
"Funny, I like the unknown. It's having plans, that's what I'm afraid of."
Carol caught the undertone to his words. "You're afraid of commitment?"
"That as well," he sniggered, then got more serious. "How do you do commitment when life is this unpredictable? I mean, not that I ever met anyone I would commit myself to anyway, I just, never really found humans all that, you know..."
"I married an alien. I suppose I do know."
"Right." Jake found himself intrigued, it was the first time he'd ever met anyone who actually did have a clue how he felt. "You have kids?"
"No. There are aliens like Kal, and then there are real aliens. The guy I married was, well, too alien for kids to be an option."
"But you're okay with that." Jake could sense her contentment there. "Me, it's kind of stupid, I would, but then..."
Carol smiled wryly, she had a feeling she was talking to the real Jake, a Jake not many people ever got to see. Not even Damon. "But then you're afraid."
"I don't know. Fear of people relying on me, because I don't know that I can always be there for them."
"You know, Jake, you're not half as irresponsible as you seem to want people to think."
John was in the woods that backed onto the car park in Ambleside, trying unsuccessfully to teach Damon how to program the belts. Damon had pretty quickly picked up the trick of jaunting to somewhere the belts had been pre-programmed for, but actually programming a setting himself was turning out to be way more complex.
John was being surprisingly patient. "Programming belts is a rare art. Most of us never need to know how to do it, we get used to having them pre-programmed for us by computers. It's been pretty difficult coming back here without the usual support mechanisms around."
Damon noted the hesitance in the admission. "What's it like up there in outer space, is life easier? Better"
"Yes. But, more boring maybe. There were things about living in London I missed at first, but you adjust. I don't think I would want to come back here now, I've gotten more used to life out there than I realized. And I don't miss the stress of being the only hope for the future of humanity."
"Yeah," Damon sneered cheerfully, "we're kind of stuck with that now."
"You'll adjust, adapt, just like we all did."
"Does it meant giving up any chance of leading a normal life?"
"I paid that price, when your survival is in the balance you have to. Taking your responsibility lightly isn't an option, that's something your friend Jake doesn't seem to get."
"He avoids responsibility sometimes, but he doesn't take it lightly. He isn't ready to give up having a life either, he just doesn't accept that's a trade off he has to make. He figures he can do both, and you know, somehow he always manages to get away with stuff like that."
"What about you?"
Damon thought momentarily of decisions he'd made in his life. "I've given up hope of leading a normal life for now, but certainly not forever. It won't always be like this."
John stared at Damon and contemplated his own situation. "My advice to you, for what it's worth, don't sell out today for the hope of a better tomorrow. By all means work for a better tomorrow, that's a noble thing, but don't forget to live while you do it. Don't make my mistake."
"Worried you'll get us all killed on this mission? I take it that's the real reason you wanted Kristen left behind."
"That's part of it," John confessed.
"And the rest of it is that you have doubts whether we're responsible enough for the job."
"I think you might be just a little too perceptive for your own good, you know that?"
"I've been accused of worse, mostly by Jake," Damon conceded.
John was curious. "You put up with a lot from him."
"And I'd put up with a lot more. There was a moment in my life where I was totally, totally alone. Lost. Jake was there for me, never gave up on me. You know, as far as I'm concerned, he can call me anything the hell he wants."
"Now, understand, this is just first aid I'm showing you. I'm not a qualified medic." Elizabeth explained. She was sat with Kristen in the kitchen of Chris's apartment.
Kristen was happy to learn anything. "First aid saved my life after I fell off that building, I want whatever you can teach me."
"Whatever Kal might have told you, what he did after you fell off the building was a lot more than first aid. That would have stretched the abilities of a lot of professional medics, for an unqualified med student he took a significant risk."
"I'd have died."
"He made a judgment call, he broke the rules. I read his file, he's forever pushing the rules. In the long term they think that's one reason he has the potential to be a great medic, if he can just grow up a little first. I think it was unhelpful of him to make out that saving your life was just first aid, though."
Kristen caught on to the undercurrent in Elizabeth's words. "And that's a polite way of reminding me I was getting too close to be objective, and I need to let go."
"You already worked that out for yourself, you just haven't finished the letting go part. I thought the encouragement might help."
Kristen grinned. "So, fractures I get. Simple broken bones, I think I could handle. It isn't that easy to practice this kind of stuff, is it?"
"One of the exercises they use at med school, they get you to crack an egg, then try putting it back together again. Like Humpty Dumpty. And I'm serious."
"You know, you make a great teacher."
"Used to be a teacher once, back when we all still lived here on Earth. I do more what you would call social work now."
"You miss the teaching?"
"No. It's very easy in life to spend all your time regretting what you've lost, lose focus on what you've got. I enjoy doing social work."
"Me, I have no clue what I want to do with my future. Translator, international relations or something like that I suppose, I love languages. What made you give up teaching?"
"Left Earth, had to build a whole new life for myself. But that's not a bad thing. It's possible to get too comfortable, to be afraid of moving out of your comfort zone. It took the end of the world to kick me. What happened, really wasn't nice. And not everyone survived, I lost some good friends. Still don't know what happened to Stephen. But, if that hadn't happened I wouldn't be where I am right now. I don't know. Getting a bit philosophical on you."
"I kind of like that. Me, I had an easy life, too easy. Finding out I was one of the Tomorrow People, that's shaken things up. I wasn't sure how I was ever going to fit in. That's changed now. It's taken a crashed alien flying saucer to make me realize. It isn't about fitting in, it's about hanging on for the ride."
They were almost ready to go, or at least as ready as it was possible to get in the short time that they had. Jake and Damon were now finishing their final preparations in Chris's bedroom, trying on the environment suits.
"What are you looking at us like that for?" Jake frowned.
"You look like a couple of complete 'nanas" Chris confessed.
"They're bloody uncomfortable is what they are,"
Damon retorted. "And I'm overheating. The temperature controls aren't screwed up on this thing are they?"
"Don't think so, I got the same problem." Jake admitted.
Chris was laughing. Jake glared at him. "Watch it, grandpa, you'll give yourself another stroke."
Chris laughed even harder, he was getting to love how Jake didn't back off and treat him like an invalid.
"You want to tell us what you're laughing at?" Damon asked.
"Kids," Chris tried to keep a straight face long enough to answer, "let me ask you something. What you wearing underneath those environment suits?"
"T-shirt and boxers, why?" Damon stared, unable to see the humor in that."
"They don't function properly if you wear anything underneath. Come on, even I know that."
"You having us on?" Jake stared into Chris's eyes. He could see Chris was having a laugh about something, but the emotion clouded the detail of what exactly it was he found funny.
"Seriously, I'm not. Try it."
Jake looked across at Damon, then back at Chris. Then back at Damon. They both shrugged and headed for the bathroom. Behind them they heard Chris erupt into more laughter.
Damon closed the door, and they stood there looking at each other. "Alright then, you believe him, you go first," Damon suggested.
Jake pulled out a coin. "How about we toss for it?"
"Ges-dug-usu," Damon held his ground.
"Alright, I'll bloody go first." Jake conceded and started to pull his environment suit off.
Everyone had assembled in the barn out behind Chris's apartment. It was time.
"We ready?" John asked.
There were nods all round.
"Ready for anything now we got the secret of these environment suits figured." Damon whispered aside.
John disregarded the sniggers from Jake. "I'll jaunt in using the belt. If it's all clear, I'll bring the rest of you in visually. Understood?"
There were more nods.
"There's no one around there that I can sense, we're clear to go." Elizabeth replied.
"Right. Lets do this. Stay in touch." John jaunted.
"We'll be waiting for you right here." Chris reassured them, there wasn't anything more he could do at this point. "Good luck."
Carol nodded her agreement.
Seconds later Elizabeth, Jake, Damon and Kristen had joined John in the garage out at the farm.
Most of the equipment brought in by the soldiers had been removed and some attempt had been made to return the place to it's previous state. The two tractors from outside had been moved back in where they belonged and now took up most of the space in there.
Kristen wandered across and peered out the small, grimy window. She quickly took a step back again, there were soldiers out there in the distance. ~At least we know they still have some presence here,~ she informed the others. ~That has to be a good sign.~
Meanwhile John had already spotted the items of interest on a trestle table against the wall.Elizabeth walked over and inspected the induction coils. ~They moved the capsules out, but the transponders are all still here, shielded. They've done it deliberately.~~Someone obviously doesn't want them rescued.~ John declared bluntly.
"Shit." Kristen wasn't happy. "And we were the idiots who told them how to shield the transponders."
John glared angrily at the shielded transponders. His infuriation was entirely directed at the Earth authorities, but that didn't make Kristen feel any better.
She turned away, frustrated, almost sobbing. ~We thought we were helping.~
Jake shook his head, he couldn't allow Kristen to shoulder the blame. ~It's okay, Kristen. I made the call, I said we should trust her. It's my fault, mine alone.~
~Your fault?~ John turned on him.
~That woman, that Sierpinski, she said she would help. I don't get it, I saw her mind, I could see she wasn't lying. I don't understand how it happened, but I made a mistake.~ Jake admitted.
~Telepathy can't tell you whether you can trust someone. Just because someone tells the truth, I'm sorry. Even bad people tell the truth sometimes.~ Elizabeth gently tried to explained.
John remained silent. If the saps were intentionally keeping the survivors hidden then their chances of rescuing them in the little time they had left were going to be close to zero. He had no clue what to do next.
Jake closed his eyes. John might have refused to voice his frustration, but Jake could still sense it. ~So you're right,~ he muttered angrily. ~I'm a complete waste of scrote, I totally screwed things up for everyone. Happy now?~
Just Like Old Timers
John and Jake had sat there for several minutes glaring at each other. Elizabeth had called Carol who had quickly jaunted in to help act as a buffer between the two of them, but she wasn't needed, the atmosphere was more one of of despondency than anger.
"How long do we have left?" Kristen asked, although she wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answer.
"Four hours, thirty-seven minutes." Elizabeth confirmed.
Carol shook her head helplessly. "They could be anywhere."
"Someone knows. Someone in the chain of command has to know. All we have to work out is the right way to ask," Jake argued obstinately, still fighting the guilt of feeling like he was half responsible for getting them into this mess.
John looked at him suspiciously. "I'm sure they do, but we don't have the resources for a confrontation."
"Well I'm sorry, but I think we're a little beyond worrying about that now."
"You're not suggesting what I think you're suggesting?"
"Yes, actually I am. What's your problem?"
"And how exactly do you propose to go get them to listen?"
Jake tried to control his exasperation. "I don't know. Not yet, anyway."
Carol immediately latched onto the possibility. "It has to be worth a try, right now anything has to be worth a try."
John hesitated, he didn't exactly like what Jake was suggesting, but he didn't want to demoralize Carol any further. "Alright, alright. It's as good an idea as any right now. But lets not act in haste."
Jake wasn't ready to accept the compromise. "No, acting in haste is exactly what we need is to do. Instead of sitting here arguing the toss while time's rapidly running out."
"We need to plan this, we don't need you rushing in half cocked and making things worse again."
"Wait for all your plans to be in place, wait for a the perfect moment to come along, and you'll die of old age waiting. Sometimes you need to screw the plan. Sometimes you just need balls." Jake slipped out the door and walked off towards the soldiers Kristen had seen earlier.
John stared furiously after him, but it was too late to pull Jake back, the soldiers had already seen him. "Is Jake always this bloody minded?" John asked, sounding exasperated.
"Yeah," Damon conceded. "You get used to it."
Jake had contemplated jaunting directly into the middle of the checkpoint, in full view of everyone, for once he wanted to draw attention to himself. But if the soldiers were a little bit jumpy then surprising them like that might just get him shot again, which would be a bugger given he'd only just recovered from the last time that had happened. He was going to have to attract attention in a more conventional way, at least to start with.
"Menzen, zae-nu-igi-sig," Jake shouted. He didn't know enough alien to be able to make much sense, but that didn't matter, the soldiers he was walking towards understood even less.
It was a tough job to stay balanced. He was walking slowly, but without his walking stick it was proving to be harder than he had anticipated. He was determined not to feel sorry for himself. He thought about Chris, there was a guy in far worse shape, and there was a guy who had no concept of feeling sorry for himself.
Trashed knee, which had happened because on that occasion he'd rushed in without a clue of what he was doing. Maybe there was a lesson there. A lesson, he was acutely aware that he was ignoring right now, charging off on his own with even less clue what he was doing.
"Hello there, sir. This is a restricted area, we're investigating possible radioactive contamination." One of the soldiers had seen him.
"Gae menzen sugu-Ges-sur," Jake replied, kind of hoping that they couldn't understand a word he was saying. The only alien phrases he knew were the really offensive ones.
"Sir, you need to leave this area. It might not be safe. We're going to have to escort you out of here immediately."
"Zae Gae Ges zig, lu sir dili."
Jake was close enough to be able to hear the voice of the soldier who was calling in the incident back to base.
"Reporting a civilian in the exclusion zone, barely more than a kid. Sounds like a foreigner, doesn't speak English. No, no clue how he got past the roadblocks. Odd thing about him, he's wearing what looks like a radiation suit."
Jake could sense puzzlement. The soldier had gone silent. No orders appeared to be forthcoming. Jake smiled. He'd got someone somewhere spooked.
"Kal-umun." He stared at the soldier. He had the guy's attention, now it was time to up the ante. "Nieb-gisgal, Gulal-ursan," he paused theatrically. "There is no contamination here. Radioactive levels are within normal tolerances. It is safe. The four survivors were last detected in this vicinity. I am not leaving."
"Sorry, but that's not an option. Orders are to escort you out of the area."
"You will not." Jake stated blankly, arrogantly. He could sense several soldiers surrounding him slowly. ~Damon, show me an exit.~
The soldiers remained silent. Jake continued, "the four survivors will be recovered. You will not interfere with the process."
The radio crackled to life. Orders coming back, Jake presumed, but the soldier interrupted quickly. "Sir, we have a situation here."
Jake took advantage of the distraction and jaunted, regretting that he wouldn't get to see the reaction on their faces as he disappeared into thin air.
John was fuming. "You'll have the whole military on high alert for us now."
Jake stared back, an idea starting to form. "They're on alert for me. That was my objective, I think."
"How many alien reception centers do you think they have? I let myself get caught. I'd lay odds they'll take me the same place they took the others."
John was shaking his head. "I can't disagree with the logic, but that's a hell of a risk."
"Only to me," Jake reminded him bluntly.
"We have no clue what they'll do to you. The risk is unacceptable. One of us should go." John glanced at Carol and Elizabeth, looking for one of them to volunteer.
That wasn't good enough for Jake. "What is your problem with me? I can do this."
"I don't doubt it. But you are not a member of this rescue team, this is not your risk to take."
Jake had no intention of letting go. "Yes it is. Because you're right. I did screw up, I did get us in to this mess. So if someone has to take a risk to get us out of it, makes sense it should be me. Anyway, you're overrating the danger. Ask this lot, I can talk my way out of anything."
"Lose the attitude, Jake. This is serious."
"Yes. It is serious. Tell me you have a better idea. Tell me why sending Carol or Elizabeth is less risky. Or tell me to get on with it."
"Aliens don't limp." Damon launched in with a reason.
Jake fumed at him. "So that's it, is it? I'm crippled, useless."
"No it isn't that." John wasn't sure Damon was helping here.
"The point here is to get caught, not run away. And I'm not going to turn into the one who always gets left behind just because I'm the one with the buggered knee. Anyway, I'm the one they saw, so it has to be me. If you want to argue with that, make it fast, because another minute and I'll go anyway."
John tried to keep his reasoning balanced. "We're out of options. I accept this might be the right way to proceed. I'm not questioning your competence, it will be equally risky whoever goes. But I don't appreciate your attempts to railroad the decision."
That was as close to an agreement as Jake was going to get. He pulled his watch off and offered it to John. "Best if I'm not caught with this, I don't want have to explain the joke engraved on the back to them."
John reluctantly took the watch, glancing at the back as he did so. The juvenile humor didn't impress him much. "Stay in constant contact. Remember that wherever you are, you aren't alone. Help can be there within seconds."
"And don't screw up. I know. I'll save you the bother of having to remind me of that one."
Jake jaunted from the tree line directly into the center of the crater. The crash site itself had been less than half a mile from the farmhouse, and Jake had gambled this would be a good place to get caught. It didn't take the soldiers long to spot him, likely the bright silver suit had helped.
"Excuse me sir, we'd like to speak to you," one of them called out.
"Trajectory and analysis of the impact crater confirms survivable landing. Four capsules made planetfall." Jake intoned back at them, wondering if he was overdoing the terse sounding alien thing. He figured he would have to loosen up a little, he was struggling to keep a straight face.
"Sir, can you understand what we're saying?"
"I understand you. The capsules have been moved from the crash site. What is their new location?"
"We will show you, sir, if you'd like to come with us."
Jake smiled to himself. ~Game on, guys,~ he telepathed silently to the others, and then allowed himself to be led away.
The others had retreated to the relative safety of the storage barn out behind Chris's nursing home. Carol was getting everything organized. "We'll need blankets."
Chris nodded, clearly struggling. "Easy, we can raid the supply closet here. I'll handle that. Just give me a minute."
"Holding out?" Kristen asked him quietly.
"Doing great, haven't had this much fun in years. But running back and forward to house like this, I just need to catch my breath."
John, meanwhile, was handling the logistics of the rendezvous with the rescue ship. "Elizabeth, contact them and have them make plans to come in and pick us up. It's going to have to be an atmosphere flight, I realize they won't be happy, but under the circumstances I don't see we have a choice."
Damon was puzzled. "Why can't you just jaunt up? A ship like that has to be equipped with inertial damping."
Carol chipped in with the explanation. "Nieb-gisgal and Gulal-ursan can't jaunt right now. And we might risk carrying them short distances, from here to Ambleside shouldn't be a problem, but we don't dare try to carry them all the way into orbit. Flying the ship inside the Earth's atmosphere, that's a whole different set of problems and dangers, but the risk there is primarily to the ship's hull and maneuvering engines. The Galactic Trig won't exactly thank us for returning in a ship that is going to need extensive repairs when we get back, but getting the survivors back safely is all anyone really cares about."
"Trig? Kal mentioned something about that." Kristen picked up on the conversation.
"Administrative council, made up of representatives of all the civilized races in our corner of the galaxy. A bit like the United Nations here on Earth, only, hopefully a little less bureaucratic. Rescue missions to closed worlds fall under their jurisdiction, they authorized this mission," Carol answered.
"The mission, but not exactly our presence on the mission." John clarified. "They would have objected because of the risk of us making contact with the locals, which is a strict no-no on a closed world."
Elizabeth rejoined the group having relayed instructions up to the rescue ship. "And of course we immediately made contact with Chris, and then with you and your friends. So they were right not to want to send us," she joked.
"So for all you criticize Jake right now, you're here doing exactly what you were complaining about him doing?" Damon pointed out.
John frowned. "I know you like him, but that young man has an attitude problem goes far beyond just being obstinate. Seems to me that Jake refuses to listen to anyone at all."
Kristen smiled. "There are only two people in the world get to tell Jake Laris what to do, that's his mother, and Damon here."
"And I struggle sometimes." Damon admitted.
"And yet you defend him to the end." John observed.
Kristen shrugged. "You put up with it. Because you know that when everything else falls apart, he'll still be there for you."
Damon could see John was thinking, but he couldn't see what John was thinking about. John was blocking the mind reading thing, keeping his thoughts to himself. Damon hadn't even known that was possible. Another reminder of just how much there was about telepathy that they didn't know.
The door opened and Jake saw Elaine Sierpinski for the first time. First time with his own eyes anyway. He'd seen her through Kristen's eyes, but he starting to understand why it was a bad idea to make judgements made on an indirect perception like that. What he sensed now was an enormously complex person. Not so much difficult to read, but very difficult to interpret.
He looked past Sierpinski to see a truck parked in the hanger behind her, the clearly identifiable shape of one of the capsules in the back. ~Got one,~ he shouted telepathically, hoping the others were listening. ~It's Kal, I recognize the markings on the capsule.~
~Any sign of the others?~ John called back.
~Not yet. I sense she's letting me see one capsule to try and hook me, I get the distinct feeling she's going to be looking for something in return for access to the others. She wants to negotiate some kind of deal.~
~They get nothing, and that isn't negotiable.~
"Where are the others?" Jake decided on the direct approach.
"Safe, they'll be here soon. In the meantime, I would like to extend to you our hospitality. My name is Elaine Sierpinski and I represent the government and people of the United Kingdom. On behalf of all the people of our world, I would like to welcome you to the planet Earth..."
~You want me to keep her talking here? Because I think the problem will be getting her to shut up,~ Jake observed cynically.
~We need to know if the others are nearby,~ John replied. ~If we can establish that they are, that's small enough of an area to search in the four hours we have left, we can risk a confrontation. But we have to be completely certain.~
"How long until they get here?" Jake completely ignored the pleasantries. "We don't have much time, the stasis only delays infection, they need treatment, and they need it soon."
"I'll do all I can to speed things up as much as possible. It won't be long. Not long at all," she smiled politically at him. "In the meantime we have somewhere you can be more comfortable while you wait, where we can talk," she held out a hand.
Jake sensed, well, not complete truth, but no overt lies either. There was something she was holding back, but he couldn't work out what it was. She was definitely stalling. He looked blankly at Sierpinski's hand remembering the ribbing he'd got for his reaction when Elizabeth had done that. On this occasion the hesitation worked really well, it made him look like just another clueless alien, Sierpinski took the opportunity to show him how to shake hands.
"My name is E-akub," he informed her, trying to make his name sound more kind of alien, more the way Kal had said it.
"Who do you represent, who are your people?"
"I represent no one. My job is to recover the survivors from the crash, that is all."
Jake could sense his answer frustrated her. She could dish out non-specific answers, but she couldn't take them. And she was used to being able to bully people into giving the answers she wanted, Jake could sense that as well.
Jake quickly surveyed the area and reported back. ~Two guards, they stand outside. There is one surveillance camera in here, I can freeze that, practiced that on my webcam at home for occasions like this. They'll spot the time code has frozen, but that should give you long enough.~
John acknowledged. ~We're ready to move in as soon as you give the word you're clear.~
"Show me where I can wait. But understand that my patience is limited. I intend to leave here with the survivors within four hours, I will do so with or without your help," he spoke flatly and unemotionally.
"This way," she smiled.
Jake sensed the smile was a fake one, the ultimatum had worked. He already had her on the defensive, this was going to be easier than he'd expected. He allowed himself to be led away, listening for the garage door to finish closing behind him.
~It's all yours, guys. I jammed the lock on the garage door as well for good luck.~
John stood guard by the door listening for anyone coming. He didn't expect the process of recovering Kal to take more than a minute or two.
For all his earlier frustrations with Jake, John had to acknowledge that the boy could handle himself under pressure. He watched Elizabeth and Damon unsealed the capsule. Each took one of Kal's hands and they jaunted silently out. The two of them made a good team. And for all his arrogance, Jake was a team player as well. The way he'd been sticking up for Kristen, the way he was getting on with the job and not letting his obvious frustrations with John get in the way of that. Those were all qualities John could respect.
John quickly resealed the capsule then headed back over to the garage door to release the lock, the less evidence they could leave of their presence the better. It took him a moment or two, locks had never been his thing. He could have done with having Mike there. Mike had really wanted to come along on the rescue mission as well, but he wasn't exactly in favor with the Trig these days and Tikno had already bent enough rules to get John, Carol and Elizabeth along. Mike's problem was that his headstrong behavior made him too much of a loose cannon. A lot like a certain Jake that John was struggling to deal with right now.
John wanted a life. That was what this was all about. He wasn't past it, not yet. He just had to let go of the world he'd left behind, let the next generation take over that responsibility. Which would be easier if he could just convince himself that they were up to the task. He could see they had the potential, he just wasn't sure they had the dedication.
The lock clicked back, sparing John any more opportunity to reflect on his uncertainties. He jaunted away just in time. Someone had been quick on their toes, a technician had already turned up to check on the malfunctioning surveillance camera.
John arrived back at the barn to find Elizabeth had Kal lying on a blanket on the floor. Chris had just returned with water for Kal to drink, but Kal didn't look in all that great shape. Chris was out of breath from the activity, he looked in even worse shape than Kal.
"Don't even look at me like that, John, you're not sidelining me while there's still work to be done." Chris might not be telepathic, but he knew how John thought.
"You're too bloody stubborn to be sidelined. It'll be the death of you one day."
Elizabeth interrupted them. "It's no good, John. I can handle first aid, but we need a proper medic down here. I know that's against procedure, our medic is supposed to be a backup, and I know orders were that he didn't risk any exposure at all just in case he needed to be treating us as well as the survivors, but at this point..."
"We jaunted Kal out of there, and looking at him, we might have risked his life doing that. We know Nieb-gisgal and Gulal-ursan are in even worse shape. If there was ever a time to break the rules, this is it," Carol supported her.
John looked at the two of them somewhat in resignation. It had been difficult enough to convince their assigned medic to stay back on the rescue ship in the first place, if there was half a suggestion lives were at risk then he was no more likely than the rest of them to obey orders. "Alright, go ahead, have him jaunt down," John conceded.
Sterile, white, and about as comforting as a hospital facility. If Jake hadn't been so confident of his ability to jaunt away then this room would have made him nervous. The office doors were closed, giving Jake and Sierpinski some privacy, the guards hadn't come into the office area but Jake could still sense them lurking just outside. One wall of the office featured a large glass viewing panel into what looked like a hermetically sealed area for handling bio-hazardous materials. The glass looked inches thick, and the door that connected the office through to the observation area was more like a vault door. Set up inside the vault area there was a sofa and coffee table that looked like they had been hastily appropriated from the waiting room of a dentist, all that was missing was a stack of out of date National Geographic magazines to complete the effect. The vault door remained open, but Jake could see that was nothing more than a technicality, their idea of a waiting room was Jake's idea of a jail cell.
He allowed Sierpinski to lead him through into the vault, where he was at least able to sit down. His leg really wasn't holding out so well.
"You're injured, are you okay? What happened to your leg?" she asked him, offering him a glass of water.
Jake stared at her, distracted for a moment. She was..., it was spooky, she was the closest he'd ever come to finding a human attractive. Although her concern for him was more a nervous concern than a heartfelt concern. She was worried it was something her soldiers had been responsible for. Jake tried to think of an excuse. "Sky diving accident last week. Tore my leg off at the knee," he tried desperately hard not to break down laughing at how outrageous that sounded. "They reattached it, but they did a bit of a botch job, I'm going to have to go back so they can partially re-disintegrate the bones to try and straighten it properly. This limping around everywhere sucks." Jake hesitated. It hadn't quite worked right. He'd gone too far the other way, too colloquial, she was getting suspicious.
"How did you learn the language so fast?"
Jake thought for a moment, he needed this bullshit to be convincing. "Monitoring broadcast communications, there's an enormous amount of chatter going on out there to analyze. Isolating the language structures was relatively easy."
Sierpinski seemed to accept the explanation. "Ku-esten told us you could monitor broadcasts, I hadn't realized the scale of the monitoring."
Jake smiled, she had pronounced 'Kristen' the same odd way that Kal did.
"One thing we of this planet would be very interested in , is knowing how we would establish a channel of communication with you. How do we get you to listen to us? How do we send you messages directly?" she continued.
"Listen to you what?" Jake was confused for a moment, her mind became impossibly convoluted at times.
"We want to send a message, a greeting, an invitation..."
That made more sense. He shook his head, She was trying to ask about the process for establishing formal diplomatic relations. Like he had a bloody clue. "I'm not the one you need to be talking to."
"But you can relay a message."
Bloody cute of her to act like she could speak for all her species as well. "You represent everyone on this planet?" he asked cynically.
"No. But, I am authorized to speak for a sizable proportion of us. We want to establish peaceful contact..."
Bullshit. She was talking absolute bullshit. The more direct the lies, the easier it was to spot them. He needed to push her towards making more blatant defensive statements.
Jake figured Kal must have been rescued by now, it was time to change tactics. Time to go for the jugular. "I don't understand how you can say peaceful contact when you're holding three of our survivors hostage."
"Not here. Right. Why aren't they here? Monitoring broadcast communications we've also learned a lot about the politics and petty interminable squabbles on this planet, and we know how you treat each other. You arbitrarily show me one of the survivors to try and establish a perception that you hold a position of power, you then bargain with us for the lives of the other three, that is your way."
He could sense Sierpinski was rattled. "They're not here yet. We didn't know for certain if you were the rescue team, we only brought one capsule here to find out. Once we knew, I ordered the rest of the capsules moved here. There is no attempt at holding them hostage," she responded emphatically. She'd prepared the cover story well.
Jake's tactic had worked. The statements were unambiguous, the complexity had fallen away from her thoughts, and with it the cloud of uncertainty that kept Jake from being able to see what part of what she was saying was true and what wasn't. He could see it was all lies.
Jake smiled. She wasn't bad for a human, but there was no doubt she was human. He had his answer.
~Listen up guys, I have a confirmation. I don't know where exactly, but I can tell you for certain the others are here, somewhere not too far from this room. I'll keep her talking, try to find out more...~
John interrupted him. ~More importantly, try and keep her distracted. We'll move in immediately and start searching. Quietly if we can, but if not, just be ready to make a very fast exit.~ John advised.
Elaine Sierpinski was puzzled. For a start she'd expected the rescue team to consist of people a little bit older than the kid she was trying to communicate with. On top of that, she couldn't work out his agenda, he seemed happy to talk to her, even though he quite obviously didn't believe a word she was telling him.
"I don't pretend the transmissions you monitored are wrong, but you have to understand the context. Not all humans act that way, not all of us are bad people," she tried to counter him. She didn't expect the argument to work, he was too astute to fall for that, he understood context. He understood too damn much. He wasn't afraid either, there was something extremely arrogant about him. The other two had been visibly afraid. They had been alone and isolated, trapped on an alien planet. But this guy, this guy acted like he could do absolutely anything he wanted and there wasn't a single thing that any force on Earth could do to stop him. It made a certain sense of Ku-esten's words, with power like that why would anyone need violence?
"The sum of human knowledge is not that great. Individual people show an ability to be good, but the evidence is that as a race you are duplicitous. Anyway, I've now established the other survivors have been here all along. Your words were lies," Jake informed her bluntly.
She was about to argue, then thought better of it. The guy had seen right through her, defending lies with more lies wasn't going to work. Her orders at this point were meaningless.
"I spent as much time as I could talking to Kal-umun and Ku-esten..." Sierpinski started to explain.
"I know everything that was said. I know you agreed to help place them in stasis, but you were meant to leave the transponders outside the induction field. You were trusted, you betrayed that trust."
Sierpinski felt angry with herself. She'd blown it, she'd failed. Alright, she'd done everything she'd been expected to do, everything she'd been ordered to do. But that wasn't the point, she'd thrown away her life in pursuit of this moment. Now she'd thrown away the moment because of her slavish adherence to stupid human politics. Well, sod it. The Doctor was right, she had one last chance to redeem herself.
"You're right. I told what I thought was the truth at the time, but then afterwards I was ordered to break my word to you, and I followed that order understanding the consequences. I accept the result is the same."
Jake paused, he apparently hadn't been expecting that revelation. "You follow your orders, even knowing they're wrong?"
"That's a difficult concept for you to understand, isn't it?"
"Maybe it's just me, I tend to disobey orders a lot. I've got issues there."
Sierpinski stared at him. He came across as so genuine when he said that. He wasn't a representative of some unearthly alien culture any more, he was just a guy. A flawed and, very human like guy.
"I knew that trying to get something out of you in exchange for releasing the survivors was a mistake. I suppose I could have disobeyed the order, but that would have been as much of a lie. Humanity can't be trusted, and it's better that you understand that."
"So you obeyed orders because you knew they were wrong?"
"That's about it. Ku-esten was right, as a planet, as a species, we're not ready for this. We're too stupid and too juvenile to deal with our own international relations, let alone interplanetary ones. Okay, I'm generalizing, there are a few responsible humans, but the number is small, and I wouldn't like to claim to be one of them. The people who gave those orders, they just don't get it. We aren't in any position to negotiate, we have no leverage. It doesn't matter what I do, it doesn't matter what anyone on this planet does. You'll walk out of here with the survivors from that crash, no one here has the power to stop you. I told them that, they wouldn't listen. They only way they'll learn the lesson is if they fail. I obeyed the order because I want them to fail, I want them to learn they're wrong."
The guy remained silent. Sierpinski was reassured by that, she'd managed to give him pause for thought, anyway.
The conversation was interrupted by the sound of a siren. The siren was closely followed by a beeping sound as the door leading into the isolation room slid automatically shut.
"Bollocks!" Jake exclaimed, looking around for the source of the alarm.
Sierpinski stared at him, puzzled by his sudden turn of phrase.
"Your language has some wonderful expletives. I'm growing to like it," he grinned at her.
The explanation wasn't entirely convincing.
"Your people?" she challenged him. "You have teams in here searching already, don't you. Well, that's what I would be doing if I were you." She'd been told to keep him busy, but all that time he had been the one keeping her busy.
Jake made no attempt at denial. "Yeah, don't think we expected to pull it off completely without being seen, but avoiding contact as much as possible seemed like a good idea at the time. Okay, where are the other capsules? It would really help if we didn't have to drag this out."
The more colloquial his language became, the less alien he seemed. Sierpinski shook her head. "No, that wouldn't work. I suspect the young Lieutenant has already been given orders to remove me if I step out of line. You don't need my help. I think the best I can do is sit here and let you keep me distracted. Obey orders, fail, and I'm okay with that. Anyway, we aren't going anywhere right now, that door is sealed and it only opens from the other side."
Jake looked across at the lock. "The red light designates locked, the green light designates unlocked?" He asked.
"Yes," she replied. Did he have some alien trick for opening locks?
"No good, too complex. To get it open, I'd need to have seen it opened at least once." He looked through the observation window. "Is that the key on the table out there?"
"Yes, you stick that in the lock from the other side, it opens. Simple." She tried not to sound sarcastic, there was no way they could get to the key, it was useless.
"No problem." Jake told her, standing up. She stared at him, puzzled. What the hell was he going to do. He looked like he was staring through the window. Staring and walking towards the window. The idiot wasn't slowing down and he was going to walk right into...
Shit. Sierpinski couldn't believe what she'd just seen. The guy had disappeared into thin air and had somehow re-materialized on the other side of window. There was no doubt at all in Elaine Sierpinski's mind any more that this guy was very, very alien.
She watched him grab the key from the desk and unlock the door to let her out. Sierpinski weighed up the alternatives, if she'd had any doubt she was doing the right thing, those doubts were gone. "Alright, I'll show you the way," she offered.
Sierpinski directed Jake to a door through to an adjoining room where the three remaining capsules were lying on the floor.
~Guys?~ Jake called out, fixing the image of the capsules in his mind.
~Jake, you safe?~ Damon shouted back.
~I'm fine. Quit searching, lock on, I've found them.~
Jake visualized as seven people materialized in the room. More than he'd been expecting. He'd caught something about Kal being revived and given a large dose of the dopamine stuff that seemed to keep him functioning, but that only accounted for six.
~Who's the guy with Kal?~ Jake asked Kristen.
~The rescue ship's medic. Adam, I think they said his name was,~ she replied.
Kal and the medic guy had immediately released the covers on the capsules containing Nieb-gisgal and Gulal-ursan and were checking on their condition.
"Silence, and yet you have the look of people talking to each other. Telepathy?" Sierpinski asked.
~It would be better not to answer.~ John reminded Jake.
~She's already worked it out. At this point, there's still a chance she can help us. I trust her.~
John was circumspect. ~That may be, but the less she knows, the better.~
"And you'd already recovered two of your people."
"They were teleported out some time ago. The others aren't in any condition to teleport."
"So how do you get them out of here?" Sierpinski didn't appear interested in shutting up any time soon.
Jake had no idea what the answer was. He found himself looking at John.
~We need somewhere out in the open where we can rendezvous with the rescue ship. And we'll be carrying the two capsules, so we need to find the shortest route to get there. One of us is going to have to scout out the way, guide the rest of us out telepathically.~
~We need to move fast, the moment we move these capsules out of the induction field their condition is going to deteriorate fast,~ the medic reminded them.
~Which isn't going to be easy with the base on full alert,~ Carol pointed out.
"We need a large open area to rendezvous with the rescue ship, and the most direct route to get there." Jake asked, gambling that Sierpinski would help.
John frowned, but didn't reply.
"Parade ground. One corridor, two sets of doors. It'll take about two minutes from here. But the way won't be clear. I don't know what their orders are to stop you, I ordered weapons down, I can't reassure you that order still stands though."
John finally spoke out loud. "Four of us is enough to hold off against light sidearms if we have to," he reassured her.
Jake, Damon and Kristen stared blankly across at him. He clearly knew what he was talking about, but they had no clue how that was even possible.
~We're taking a risk, I want this unanimous.~ John proposed.
Carol, Elizabeth and Adam responded quickly in the affirmative. Kal nodded.
~What about the rest of you? This is your decision as well.~ John turned to Jake, Damon and Kristen.
~All for one and one for all.~ Damon caught Jake's eye then turned back to John. ~I'm in.~
Jake and Kristen looked at each other, neither really wanted to be the last to answer. Jake deferred and allowed Kristen to answer first before adding his own okay. He was acutely aware of John watching him the whole time.
~Jake, Damon, Kristen, Kal, you four carry Nieb-gisgal and Gulal-ursan between you. The rest of us will act as escort.~
Jake looked at John, betraying a certain frustration at John's over protective attitude again.
~I'm happy to switch if you feel comfortable with your ability to stop a bullet,~ John suggested.
~Last time I stopped a bullet, I did it by getting my knee in the way.~ Jake conceded. ~I'll let you take that one.~
For a moment it looked like their luck was going to hold. They made it outside, almost as far as the parade ground before they encountered opposition.
"Halt or we'll fire." The soldier called out. There was a stand off.
~Be ready, just in case.~ John warned everyone.
Jake was aware John had addressed the message to more than just the eight of them stood there.
They waited in silence, surrounded, no one moving or speaking.
"Soldier, stand down." Sierpinski tried to see if she had any authority left. The lack of any response gave her the answer she was looking for.
The Lieutenant arrived, looking somewhat nervous. "Step away, Ms Sierpinski."
Sierpinski glanced up at Jake, who nodded. There was no need for her to stand with them. She walked off to the side, she refused to stand with the soldiers.
"You two, move in and check them for weapons." The Lieutenant ordered.
Two soldiers stepped forward. Carol raised her hand in a stop gesture, the soldiers ignored it. She winced as they walked into the invisible telekinetic wall she had placed in the way.
"Make ready." The Lieutenant ordered. The guns were raised.
Sierpinski was uncomfortable. She didn't quite figure either side quite had the measure of the other. "Lieutenant, you aren't going to achieve anything."
"I have my orders."
"To kill them?"
"The weapons are defensive only, we will only open fire if provoked. Do not threaten us."
"And you can't see it, can you? That the only threatening, provoking actions going on here are yours. "
"I have my orders."
Sierpinski turned to address John and the others. "I'd like to tell you they won't use the guns, that they aren't that stupid, but, I'm afraid they really might be that stupid. I'm sorry."
John sighed, more disappointed than anything. ~Looks like we might need that backup after all.~
The ship materialized from hyperspace, hovering ominously over the ground, creating a shadow where they were all standing.
With blinding speed a hatch slid back in the side of the shop and with a rotating motion something that distinctly resembled a much bigger gun slid out.
There was no hesitation, no warning, no quarter. It swung in an arc and had fired fifteen times within a fraction of a second. Fired at each one of the armed soldiers. Each blown off their feet as the energy bolt impacted.
The Lieutenant pulled himself to his feet, clearly surprised to still be alive. He looked around for his gun, but it was quickly apparent it wasn't there. He reached down for his sidearm, that was missing as well. The energy bolt had completely destroyed the weapons leaving the soldiers completely unharmed.
Sierpinski watched, and smiled. In her own way, she figured she'd won. No question now, they'd listen to her next time. Not that there ever would be a next time.
The main hatch of the ship opened and a ramp descended. John gestured, and Nieb-gisgal and Gulal-ursan were quickly helped onto the ship.
"I'm..." the Lieutenant blustered, "I'm sorry. Can we just talk about this?"
John stared blankly back, trying not to laugh at the Lieutenant's naïvety.
"There's no point, Lieutenant. We just burned our bridges." Sierpinski reminded him. She felt sorry for him, he'd completely lost control and yet was determined to try and carry out his orders to the last.
"I was just trying to, to have a chance to talk. There are so many questions we have."
"We aren't going to get any answers. Not that make any sense to us. They have power beyond our ability to comprehend."
"They can help us to see, help us to learn."
"But you won't, will you?" Sierpinski addressed the question at John, already knowing the answer, but still asking for the benefit of the Lieutenant.
"Our report will recommend against contact with this world."
"At least leave us the capsules, we can analyze the technology and..."
John interrupted him. "We can't allow technology like that to fall into the hands of primitives."
"You're worried we'd turn the technology against you?" Sierpinski wondered out loud.
"Not really." John admitted. "Judging by the mess this planet is in I think you're more a danger to yourselves than to us."
"Very true." she conceded. "And I don't get the impression we'll see you around here again, either, right?"
"Your world is too dangerous, too primitive. We won't be back. Not any time soon, anyway."
The Lieutenant shook his head. "Then when? Sooner or later you're going to have to deal with us, sooner or later we'll find a way to travel out into space."
One by one the figures had walked up the ramp into the waiting space ship, only John and Jake remained.
"Your science, in which you pride yourself so greatly, is a long, long way from being at a level where you could leave this planetary system, let alone cross the distances between stars. It will be centuries before we need to concern ourselves with you." John informed the frustrated Lieutenant.
"And who knows, by the time that happens, you might have evolved some sense." Jake added.
~Based on the evidence though, I wouldn't count on it.~ John replied silently, and avoided looking directly at Jake.
Not entirely appreciative of the slight, Jake nodded curtly, gave one last smile at Elaine Sierpinski, and headed after the others onto the ship.
~Signal the self destruct on the capsules and beacons.~ John gave the final order, and without another word retreated into the spacecraft. The ramp retracted, and the ship seemed to shimmer and vanish, leaving the soldiers still staring in disbelief, and leaving Elaine Sierpinski bemused.
Seconds later the capsules and beacons that had been left behind imploded. A flash of light too bright to look at, but no sound, no shock wave, the surroundings weren't even singed. But of the capsules and beacons there was no evidence remaining that they had even existed.
Sierpinski, like the Doctor before her, was packing up her desk. The Lieutenant knocked hesitantly.
"Yes Lieutenant," she waved him in. She couldn't say she bore him any malice. Like so many before him, he was guilty of nothing more than following orders.
"I, understand you're heading out, I just wanted to say, not as a Lieutenant, but as me, I wanted to say sorry. What I did, it was nothing personal. It wasn't the outcome I would have chosen."
"You and me both." Sierpinski agreed. "Apology accepted, Lieutenant... I don't even know your name. Doesn't matter. I'm no longer on duty either. Happy to be getting out of here."
The Lieutenant was reflective. "They didn't know what they were doing, did they, the people giving the orders? You did, and no one was listening. The people at the top never take the blame though, I'll probably be discharged for my part in this mess."
"Lieutenant, I fully intend to take the fall for this one, you'll be exonerated." Sierpinski wasn't worried, the Lieutenant had followed orders, he'd keep his job. "But before you go thanking me for that, my motives are selfish, you get to keep your job, and I'd say that means you get the shitty end of the stick here. Because if I've learned anything the last three days, I've learned that the job is a bunch of crap. There is more to my life than my job."
She was pleased to see her response had caught the Lieutenant off guard. Her own future, though, was more in doubt. They'd never trust her again, not completely, and that would mean the end of jobs like this one. Not that it mattered any more, the one dream she'd had in life had come true, for what it was worth, and it was time to move on. Being pushed out at this point was probably the best thing that could happen to her. She would have to find another challenge in life, and maybe this time she could start out with more reasonable expectations.
The Lieutenant turned to leave. "Not exactly the way I expected the weekend to turn out," he admitted. "I'm still not sure I really believe any of this happened. Still not entirely sure exactly what did happen."
With that, Sierpinski could agree. "I don't think any of us will ever really know. Except..."
"Except when I look up at the stars at night, I think I'll feel a little less lonely in future," Elaine Sierpinski concluded, feeling happy, feeling hopeful, feeling free.
I Wouldn't Want To Live Here
"Get the ship back into orbit, it's dangerous to remain within the atmosphere for any length of time," John ordered, although it wasn't immediately clear who the order had gone to.
John, Carol and Elizabeth seemed to be immersed in making a report on the success of the mission, Kal was assisting Adam with getting Nieb-gisgal and Gulal-ursan into a more stable protective environment. Jake, Damon and Kristen found themselves standing on the cargo deck feeling somewhat disconnected from what was going on around them.
Jake finally had to interrupt. "So what happens to us?"
"You, young man, go home." John stated bluntly.
Jake resisted the temptation to get wound up already. It wasn't easy. It almost didn't matter what John said, it was going to get him wound up.
Carol once again jumped in to try and head off a confrontation. "We have to get back to Chris, pick up the equipment we left there, say goodbye. We'll drop you off."
"Any chance you could land us nearer to home?" Damon asked. "Beckindale isn't exactly an easy place to get back from."
"This isn't exactly a number nine bus, I'm not risking any more atmospheric trips. We still have the inertial damping projector set up, we'll use that, we'll jaunt down." John answered.
"We have about two or three hours of exposure time left. That's enough to jaunt them anywhere the belts have a program for." Carol was sure John was being more awkward than he needed to be, but she wasn't going to accuse him of that directly.
A light formed in the darkness. Six lights, growing stronger. Six figures materialized, solidified, and used the flashlights they were carrying to scan around the room that they now found themselves in.
"Where are we?" Kristen asked, trying not to cough as the dust caught her throat. She was momentarily concerned they'd landed off target.
John reassured her. "The basement of Debenhams. Westfield, London."
"What exactly are we doing in the basement of Debenhams?" Damon asked.
"That's where the inertial damping projector was configured for, it would take too long to reset it," Carol explained.
"Long story." Elizabeth cut them short. "I'll head on up to see Chris while John takes the kids to show them the vault. You coming Carol?"
"I think I'll stick with John." She made no comment about needing to be there to stop John and Jake strangling each other, by now it went without saying.
"I'll come along, if that's okay?" Kristen jumped in.
"Fine." Elizabeth smiled, more than happy not to be heading off alone. "We'll meet the rest of you there in half an hour."
Jake glanced at Kristen, then at John. "Hold up, Kristen, I'll head with you. Only one of us needs to know about this vault, Damon's the responsible one."
"That all appears to be in order, sir." It was the same clerk they had spoken to the day before. John nodded and headed over to the others.
"It was a safe place for us to store things in case we ever had to come back, but now, more than anything, it's here in case Stephen ever does come back. Let him know how to get a message to you, and warning him about the dangers of the prion infection," Carol was explaining to Damon.
"Where exactly is this Stephen now?"
"We don't really know, it's not easy to explain. We do know it's a dangerous place, Megabyte warned us of that much. If Stephen does make it back, the secret of how to get there has to be destroyed. If he can't destroy the secret, then one of you will have to finish the job. Whatever else happens, no one else can ever be allowed to go there. Too many people died last time."
Damon stared at her, looking puzzled. "That's kind of cryptic."
Carol was subdued. "We know there's something bad there, but no one ever survived to tell the tale. Cryptic is all we know."John picked up the warning, "What I'm worried about is your friend Jake. He comes across as a little headstrong. If he finds out the secret of the way there, I can see him charging in to rescue Stephen whatever the risks. But he seems to listen to you, so you have to try and make sure, Carol isn't exaggerating, you must not go there, not any of you."
"Without even knowing where there is?"
"I know. But this is important."
Damon swallowed back. He didn't want to make trouble but there was something he had to say. "Look,' he started, "Jake isn't as irresponsible as you think he is. I'm not trying to defend him totally, he does do stupid things at times, and I don't want to get into an argument with you. But you're not, and it's none of my business why, but you're not giving him a fair chance."
"There are reasons..." John started.
~Sorry for interrupting, but we have a problem. You need to get here now.~ Elizabeth shouted abruptly, telepathically, preventing John from finishing his explanation.
~We're on our way.~ Carol replied.
"Is this a hospital?" Damon asked as they materialized out of sight under a staircase.
"It's Chris." Elizabeth explained, greeting them. "Another stroke. The ambulance was there when I arrived. The paramedic wasn't thinking his chances were all that great."
~What's a stroke?~ asked Kal. He had jaunted in along with Adam moments after Damon, John and Carol had arrived.
Adam supplied the answer. "Cerebral thrombosis, or cerebral hemorrhaging."
"Kal, you shouldn't be here. You're running up against the limits of your prion exposure levels." Carol resumed her headmistress persona.
Kal frowned at her. "Right, so we need to move. Do something. I wasn't exactly impressed with the hack job these humans did on Jake there."
"Adam, tell him to get back to the ship, he isn't even qualified," Carol insisted.
Adam shook his head. "Sorry Carol, but he knows enough to be able to help, and repairing cerebral damage like that, I could really do with the help."
"Risking himself in the process."
Adam was blunt. "I know the consequences of the prion infection better than anyone. I just found out today that's what killed my best friend. I'm not about to take any unwarranted risks with anyone's life. Not Kal's, and not Chris's either."
"Chris?" John asked gently.
The nurse looked sternly at the rather large party of people that had crowded into the room. "He can probably hear you, but I don't know he'll be able to respond. We've done what we can, and for now his condition is stable. You are welcome to sit with him, but I have to ask that no more than three people are in here at any one time. I'll be back in half an hour to check on him," she noted, indicating she expected them to be complying with the hospital regulations by then. She turned and headed out.
John sat by the bed. The nurse didn't know Chris, didn't know how bloody stubborn he was.
"Chris?" John repeated.
"You get to the other survivors?" Chris managed to whisper.
"They're safely on the rescue ship, they're going to be fine."
"Survivors rescued, you made contact with those new Tomorrow People of yours. Mission accomplished. They can watch out for Stephen, I can finally retire and finally get some peace and quiet," he joked. He fell silent, that was as much effort as he had left in him.
"Chris, you have to hold in there," John pushed. He looked across at Adam.
Chris made one last effort to speak. "I can't see any more, that last stroke took my sight. I can't live like this. If I thought there was a chance, I'd take it. John, I'm finished. It was a great ride, but the future is for the young. We gave the future a chance, couldn't ask for more than that." His breathing became more shallow.
"Chris?" John tried to get through.
Chris couldn't answer, but John could sense enough of what he was thinking. "No, Chris, it's not over yet. I'm not here to say goodbye one last time."
Adam moved forward and leant over the bed. He started to reach out, and sensed concern. "It's okay, I'm a doctor," he pointed out.
John smiled, he could appreciated Chris's uncertainty. "Really, much though he may not look it, he is medically qualified."
Adam placed his hand gently across Chris's forehead. He took a moment or two to judge Chris's condition. "Biggest problem is that there's still a fragment of shrapnel left in there. That's the reason your health has been deteriorating. The game's not over yet." Adam turned and called across, first to Kal, "we'll start with the sonic disintegrator. And everyone else, do what the nurse said, we need some room to work in here."
~Here.~ Kal held out the disintegrator.
Adam shook his head. "That's your job, I need you to get the blood clots sorted while I work on getting the shrapnel out."
~I'm not qualified, technically I'm not even a med student any more.~
"Judging by the way you managed to patch up Nieb-gisgal and Gulal-ursan, you bloody well should be. Get to work, that's an order."
Kal hesitated momentarily, then powered up the disintegrator.
"You think Kal will end up like that Adam one day? I mean, Adam all responsible and a professional medic. Kal completely irresponsible and going out drinking and having sex with the headmaster's daughter." Kristen pondered as she brought Jake a cup of coffee in a paper cup.
Jake smiled. "He's responsible. He's just, he's been putting off the moment he has to give in to it. He's afraid. Afraid of the unknown. Afraid of the dragons that lie in wait there."
"We all have our dragons."
"That Adam's got Kal worked out, anyway. Pushing him to help out. I think I like Adam, even if he does come across as so responsible that he's boring."
Kristen seemed to think for a moment, thinking about how far she felt comfortable pushing Jake. "So exactly what is your problem with John then? I mean, I don't see much difference between Adam and John in that respect."
"I don't know. Some people you just clash with. I suppose it's the way John makes me feel, like I'm not up to the task."
"But you are."
"Yeah, but I don't want anyone knowing that," Jake joked. "So what about you. Three weeks on. You think you can deal with this? Deal with being one of the Tomorrow People?"
"What do you think?"
"I think you can. I think you already know that."
Kristen stared at him, that was typical bloody Jake, avoid answering a question he was uncomfortable with, then find a way to twist it round in a way that she couldn't argue with. And yet she couldn't help feeling reassured by him. "You always know exactly what to say to make people feel good, don't you?"
"Fun at the vault?" Jake asked.
Damon turned slowly to give Jake a look that said thanks for dumping me on my own with that one. "Yeah, stimulating. And now I've got a bunch of stuff that they left with Chris that I have to take back there. They treat me almost as badly as you do. Bloody bag man is what I am."
"Not really. Bunch of those belts they use to help with jaunting. Credit cards."
"Belts. I had a thought about those. And where's the money come from?"
"Ah well, doesn't matter, not our cash anyway. We're better off without temptations like that anyway." Jake retorted sternly.
Damon smiled to himself. Jake could be an arse at times, but it was always reassuring to be able to sense he was a trustworthy arse if nothing else.
"For people hell bent on getting out and not returning to this planet they seem pretty caught up on keeping that vault active," Jake continued.
Damon shrugged. "It's pretty important to them, I guess I can see why. Two of them went on a mission, one looks like he died, one never made it back. I didn't exactly get any explanation what the mission was, just that something went wrong. But they really do still have a strong belief that this Stephen is going to turn up again one day."
"After fifteen years? If he does, I'll eat my underpants." Jake stated bluntly.
Damon was unimpressed. "Yeah, well he won't, will he, much as I hate to be pragmatic about that. So your offer isn't exactly dangerous risk taking."
"I'll eat your underpants, I'll eat your dirty underpants while they're still warm."
Damon was reluctantly impressed. "Now that is confidence."
"What about the belts. We could just stick them in the vault, sure, but how about we could actually make some use of those?" Jake asked out loud as he and Damon rejoined the others.
John was measured in response. "The belts aren't going to be much use to you without help, and we have no time left to teach you. There are only two ways of programming them. The easy way is if you have a computer that can interface to them telepathically, which you don't have. The only other way is manually, and that takes years of practice. It's pretty dangerous if you don't know what you're doing."
"Jaunt into solid rock..." Jake started to suggest.
"Which proves my point that you don't know what you're talking about. It isn't possible to jaunt into solid rock using a belt any more than you can walk through a brick wall. You just bounce off, which will generally get you stuck in hyperspace, and I assure you is something you don't want happening."
"You love making me feel like an idiot, don't you."
"Will you two just stop arguing," Elizabeth finally snapped. "Can't you both see there are more important things in life than this endless squabbling?"
John gestured at Jake, and led him around the corner away from the others. "I think we need to talk."
"You're still pissed off because of the gamble I took." Jake could read some of what John was thinking.
"Can we have this discussion without the language please?"
Jake bit his tongue. The temptation to retaliate verbally was strong. But he could see there was no malice in the request. The guy just had a different set of values. And Jake figured he ought to have learnt a lesson or two about being tolerant over the last few days. "Is it okay if I swear in alien?" He asked.
It was light hearted without being too snarky. John seemed to relax slightly. For the first time the two of them had managed to exchange a couple of sentences without totally winding themselves up into a confrontation. "I won't pretend I approve of risky behavior like that. Especially not from you."
"So you really are treating me differently?"
"Damon and Kristen do. I've been watching. They both look up to you. You set the example, they follow."
"Damon follows if he feels like it. Other times he's the one ordering me about. Kristen, she's still a bit nervous of me, haven't known her that long. She'll be telling me to piss off sooner or later." Jake hesitated, "sorry about the language."
The apology seemed to resonate with John. "They will both argue with you, they will both have their limits if you push against them. But they both respect you, and they both trust you more than I think you realize."
"Right. Where is this conversation going?"
"Jake, what you did was ill-considered and irresponsible. It also most likely saved the lives of Kal and the others, I won't deny that. You clearly have your head screwed on when it comes to making difficult judgment calls like that. I'm not asking you to change that. All I am asking is that you recognize that there are people out there who are watching everything you do. And you do them a disservice when you casually dismiss the seriousness of your actions. I realize it is all part of the bravado, but it sets the wrong example. You have that innate quality that leads people to respect you, and in time, as there are more and more new Tomorrow People breaking out, the example you lead by will become more and more important."
"That's what this is about? You think I'm some kind of leader? I'm no leader, I have no interest in being a leader of anything. I like to keep my head down."
"Yes, I can see that. But it's already happening. Walking headstrong into the middle of a bunch of soldiers with the intention of getting caught is not an example of keeping your head down. You did it because you had to. And when I first encountered you, you had the kind of cocksure attitude that came across as all bravado and no substance. I can now see that was all part of an incredibly good front you hide behind to try and cover up the fact that deep down you really are quite responsible. I can usually see what people are thinking, but you had me fooled, and believe me, I'm not easily fooled. You have a lot more courage than you give yourself credit for."
"That wasn't courage. I didn't do it because I was brave, I did it because I wasn't thinking too carefully about the consequences. Because if I had worried about the consequences then I'd have been too scared shitless to act."
"Well we are just going to have to agree to differ on that point. What matters is that there will come a time when holding everything together will have to become your first priority, and not rushing off on a one man mission to save the world."
"First, there isn't anyone else I could have sent. Secondly, I couldn't have sent anyone else because I didn't know what I was sending them to do, I didn't work it out myself until I got there. And thirdly, I have no right to send people to do things I haven't got the balls to do myself. And that is why I have a problem with 'leaders' and that is why I never want to be one."
"It wasn't exactly a role I would have chosen either. Sometimes I look back and regret that I was forced to grow up so quickly. It may surprise you to learn I was pretty irresponsible as well at your age."
"No, you know, doesn't surprise me really. I think that's why we clash. We're too similar."
"Yes, unfortunately I can see that."
"And you resent the fact that I still get away with so much."
"And you resent me coming here and telling you what to do, because I don't let you hide away from responsibility the way you would clearly prefer."
"What I prefer is academic to you, isn't it?"
"I can see you aren't convinced. To be honest, I wasn't expecting you to even listen this much, so I'll take what I can get."
"So, what, you just go and leave us on our own again?"
"This world we once called home, it's poisoned. We can't come back, we don't belong here. It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here any more."
"For someone who is never coming back, you seem intent on trying to pushing your agenda for the future on us."
"I suppose I am. It's hard to let go. I do care about this world, though, Jake. That will never change. I accept this is your world now. Your tomorrow. And the choices will be yours to make. Just don't go screwing it up. Alright?"
Jake smiled. John offered his hand. The moment felt more than a little awkward, both of them far too self conscious, but they managed to shake hands. More importantly they managed to mean it.
Elizabeth checked her watch and addressed Carol, "time is running out quickly here. Kal's already risking a dangerous level of exposure and the rest of us will be as well if we stay much longer."
Carol had little to offer her in the way of comfort. "We can start to evacuate non-essential people like you and me up to the ship now, but convincing anyone else to leave right now..."
"We should be ready to leave the moment we can, but I'm not leaving until..." John broke off as Kal stepped out into the corridor, still carrying the sonic disintegrator.
Kal glanced forgetfully at it, then quietly slipped it into his pocket before giving the others the news. ~We're done, as much as we can. His condition is, well, marginally better than he was. But, look, John, you need to go in there and talk to Adam.~
John silently headed into the room, no one spoke. It wasn't exactly a report that gave anyone much confidence things were going to work out.
Kal sensed the despondency. He figured he had to say something. ~What it is, with the right care, his condition can improve slowly over time. He'll never make a full recovery, there's too much deterioration already for that, but there's a chance he'll regain some mobility, he won't be stuck in that wheelchair,, he should even be able to see properly again. But not if he stays here. He needs proper care, not the care of these primitives.~
Kristen understood Kal's worries about human witch-doctors, but there was something that confused her. "Isn't that against the rules, this being a closed planet and all that?"
"Taking him back will break just about every rule in the rule book," Elizabeth confirmed.
"Which is why John and Adam are now in there trying to work out how we can get away with it." Carol added..
Kristen spotted another problem. "Whatever you do, won't it cause a minor panic here, patient going missing?"
"He won't be going missing. They'll think he's died," Adam supplied the answer as he and John came back out into the hallway. "The rest of you are going to have to get out of here, but I've had less exposure, I'll be fine holding out here for the morning. I'll fake it to look like he died during the night. Once they're convinced he's not just pining for the fjords, I'll get him out of here and rendezvous with the rest of you later."
"How do we explain this when we get back?" Carol challenged them.
John glanced uncomfortably at Jake before he answered. "We didn't get to that part. We worked out how to get him away from here. The rest, we'll have to work out as we go along. It's not the way I like doing things, but it has been pointed out that sometimes having plans is overrated."
Carol and Elizabeth stared at John, somewhat open mouthed. John actually agreed with Jake for once?
John had no time for explanations. "Our time is up, start the evacuation, we all need to be gone from here in no more than half an hour. And make sure Kal is the first to head back to the ship."
Carol turned to Jake, Kristen and Damon apologetically. "We're not going to have time to get you back to Ambleside."
Kristen shrugged. "We'll survive."
Jake looked pessimistically amused.
"What's you problem?" Damon asked Jake.
"My car is still in Ambleside. It's going to be lunchtime tomorrow before we get back there. I didn't pay for overnight parking. Should be fun."
John was circumspect. "Then tonight you will make an unsuspecting traffic warden inappropriately happy," he pointed out dryly.
"That's actually funny." Damon smirked.
"You're okay for old people, you know that?" Jake joked back.
Kal watched their exchange in amusement. ~Okay. Before I go, have we got time for one or three last cans of that stuff, what did you call it...~ He tried to pronounce the word, "beer?"
Carol frowned at Kal in disgust, then found herself looking directly at Jake and Damon. John might have gone uncharacteristically soft on Jake, but she wasn't going to. "Medics aren't supposed to have alcohol. Tomorrow People aren't supposed to drink. Just what on earth have you two been teaching him?"
Jake looked up to see Kal now gesturing at him.
Kal led Jake into a supplies closet and shut the door behind him. ~They're loading up to head out. This is goodbye I guess. So, we don't have much time. Drop your pants.~
Jake hesitated. "I didn't think you were supposed to do things like this?"
Kal grinned back at him. ~I'm not. Not supposed to have sex either, but I do.~
Jake dropped his pants, unsure of what to expect. He found himself mildly concerned what anybody might think if they came into the closet right now the way Kal was kneeling down in front of him. It had to look pretty dodgy.
Then he rapidly had to clench his jaw to avoid shouting out in pain. He couldn't work out why the sonic disintegrator should hurt more than the bullet that had originally shattered his knee, but it bloody well did.
Kristen managed to catch Kal alone for a moment. Time was running out and she intended to make the most of getting a second opportunity to say goodbye.
Kal appeared to be surreptitiously sneaking an alien looking medical instrument back into in a bag. He acknowledged her guiltily, maybe avoidantly. ~I'm supposed to be gone already, I need to head that way.~
~You going to be okay?~
Kal shrugged. ~Adam said he'd put in a word for me. I'm still going to struggle with the no sex thing, but, I graduate in two years. I think I can handle it that long. Mostly, well, maybe. Anyway, I think I can handle the apology now, that's the main thing. You?~
~Life's okay. Things are going to be a bit weird for a while, but I'll get used to it...~
~You still can't get past having inappropriate thoughts about me, can you?~
~If it's any consolation... if I hadn't been on the run, afraid for my life, desperately trying to hold everything together, if I'd had time to notice... I think I would have figured you were pretty hot as well.~
Kristen laughed, and seized the opportunity to grab Kal and kiss him slowly. An alien he might have been, but he tasted pretty good, she noted.
Then reluctantly she watched him grab the medical bag and fade from view as he jaunted back up to the ship.
Jake limped back to the others who were ready to depart. If his knee was fixed, it absolutely didn't bloody feel it right now. He tried to ignore the pain.
"It's frustrating, we're out of time, and there is so much more I wish we could have told you." John was trying to wrap up.
Elizabeth offered caution. "Right now there are so few of you, your survival remains in the balance, you have to be careful, don't take unnecessary risks."
"You've worked out only a fraction of your potential, there is so much you still have to learn. But you'll get there, you just have to keep working at it." Carol was more upbeat.
Elizabeth smiled. "Remember you're a beacon for the future of humanity."
"But your first priority has to be to survive," John continued.
Carol smiled, remembering a time she had advised a young Stephen like this; "Then you can take over, stop wars and put the world in order."
"You really think it's that easy?" Jake wasn't convinced.
"Yes," Carol observed succinctly.
"Whose world order though?" Damon enquired.
"Ours." John smiled.
Jake shrugged. "Figures."
"I hope we do meet again. In more relaxed circumstances next time, preferably." John concluded.
"Goodbye," said Carol.
"Good luck," said Elizabeth.
"And trust no one," John imparted his final words of advice as the three of them faded from view.
"You overcome with emotion, Jake? That looks disturbingly like a tear in your eye," Damon asked, not actually sure he wanted to know the answer. It didn't exactly seem in character for Jake.
"Nope, got tears in my eyes because of how much agony my knee is in right now. Think I need to find some kind of painkillers before the pain kills me."
"This is a hospital, finding painkillers around here, is probably a lot harder than you would think." Damon observed wryly.
Kristen was trying to look around for a door. "So how do we get out of this place?"
Damon shrugged, "and where are we going to spend the night?"
"We'll just have to find a hotel or something." Jake seemed more worried about the pain still.
Damon looked at him disbelievingly. "In the middle of nowhere, this time of night?"
"What time is it exactly?" Kristen asked.
Jake went to check. "It's... Shit. Bloody shit. I didn't get my watch back. John's still got it. It'll be half way to bloody, bollocking outer space by now."
"No sign of a limp at all any more. How the hell are you planning on explaining that one?" Misako looked across the burger restaurant table at Jake.
"Hey, this is me, I'll work out a way. Somehow," he didn't sound convinced. He wasn't convinced. He'd spent the best part of the last eight hours trying to come up with an excuse, and so far had failed. "Just one of those weekends, you know."
"Worked out in the end, though, didn't it? And you were only ten minutes late picking me up from the airport," she joked.
Jake snorted. "Yeah, did the speed limit all the way back. Couldn't afford a speeding ticket after what I had to pay to get my car back after they towed it. I'm totally charging that on John's credit card before we return it to the vault."
"Haven't you pissed him off enough already?"
"No. And I'm charging him for the bloody watch as well."
Misako laughed. "I've never seen anyone get you wound up like that before. I think I like this guy."
"Piss off," Jake smirked back.
"So you think they'll be back?"
"I don't know. They don't seem to think we need them, they're expecting us to fend for ourselves."
"And, let me get this straight, your problem with John was that he was interfering and over-protective?"
"Yeah, alright." Jake conceded. "He just expects me to take over on being the interfering and over-protective one."
"Someone needs to. Sounds like we have a big job ahead of us."
"I get where John is coming from, I really do. I just know what he wants is even possible."
"We can do this." Misako stated matter-of-factly.
"You think?" Jake pondered.
"Once we learn how to use this power we've got..."
"They knew what they were doing. They had control of their abilities to a degree we can only dream of right now. There were hundreds of them. And what happened? They all had to flee the planet in a panic, those that didn't escape were wiped out," Jake contemplated. "Seriously, without help, what the hell chance do you think the four of us have?"