TIME TRAX

THE SECOND TIME AROUND

ONE

SELMA's Log: These are the journals of Darien Lambert; Captain, Fugitive Retrieval Section, AD 2193. My Captain had traveled to Virginia in pursuit of a fugitive named Maximilian Lake, a thief and con-man wanted on several charges of fraud, forgery, larceny and embezzlement in the 22nd Century. Captain Lambert also suspects Lake in the 20th Century theft of a diamond collection from the Jonathan Capperi estate.

Darien Lambert zipped his light jacket against the unexpected chill, keeping an alert eye on the seedy warehouse on the near side of an old lot. Long shadows cast by stacks of crates and a sagging fence merged with the blackness of night, the darkness held off by a few weak floodlights scattered throughout the property. It all looked eerie and uninviting, all the more so since it was 1:00 A.M.

"SELMA, are you sure this is the place?" Darien whispered. From somewhere inside the jacket, a distinctly feminine voice replied,

"Positive, Captain. This is the exact location we were given by your ~slang term~ 'snitch'." Darien shivered suddenly, wishing briefly that he'd worn something warmer. Indian summer was giving way to fall in Virginia, as unpredictable as the breeze that ruffled his hair. For an instant, he thought about how good a warm bed was going to be after this was over. But only for an instant; a movement so slight he might've imagined it caught his peripheral vision and his attention was back to more important matters. "Captain." SELMA's voice confirmed his suspicion. "There are three people approaching from the south gate."

"Can you identify any of them? Is Lake with them?" Darien was already moving, silently and quickly, using the various assortment of shipping crates and vehicles to screen his passage. As, he was sure, the other party was doing.

"I am sorry, Captain. I am unable to verify the identity of the subjects. There is an intermittent signal interfering with my scan."

"Probably that conning tower." Darien glanced over to where the tall airplane signal tower blinked its red beacon. "Keep trying." He was near the spot where he'd first detected movement, and he proceeded cautiously. It was dark enough here that he wouldn't be able to easily spot his targets until he was right.....on top....of them.....

Wham! Something slammed into the side of his head, hard, and Darien dropped to his knees with a sharp cry. Teenage voices and running feet were all around him, and he lunged dizzily, trying to trip up one of his assailants. But his fingers only brushed an ankle and he fell forward onto his hands. Street kids. His hand touched something else, and he drew it back. A small packet of marijuana was on the ground. He'd interrupted a drug deal. But it was not these street kids that Lambert had come to find.

"Captain?" SELMA's voice had taken on a concerned tone. "Are you all right?"

"Yes, I'm all right." Darien answered immediately. But he didn't move for a few moments, trying to recover from the force of the blow. It hadn't been hard enough to knock him out, but was enough for him to "see stars", so to speak. He sat back on his knees and reached up to gingerly touch the spot where he'd been hit. Already a large lump was forming, and when he drew back his fingers, there was a small bit of blood on them. After that he slowly climbed to his feet, wondering if his shout had alerted anyone else of his presence here. "SELMA, are you getting anything?"

"Yes, Captain. There is a single man approaching the warehouse. I have detected an IDF card--it must be Maximilian Lake."

"Good work, SELMA." Darien, injury momentarily forgotten, was already retracing his steps back toward the warehouse, again making the most of the cover that was afforded him. This time he was much more successful, coming within twenty feet of his subject. It was Max Lake all right. Darien hunched behind a large tank and watched as the fugitive thief opened a crate and placed a small box inside it. The diamonds, Darien realized. That was enough. He reached into his pocket, retrieving what appeared to be an ordinary car alarm. Only he and his quarry would know it was anything different. Lambert stepped out confidently from his hiding place. "Max!"

Lake whirled around sharply, startled half to death. On seeing Darien, however, the man relaxed and even grinned.

"Daireeaan Laambert." Lake had picked up the local Southern accent. "Ah must say, Ah've led ya'll on a pretty good chase. Don'tcha think?" The thief regarded Darien a long moment, and suddenly it occured to the police officer that this fugitive was actually asking for his approval. He couldn't quite suppress a smile of his own.

"Max, just between you and me, it's been an excellent chase. But now it's done and I'm going to send you back." Darien raised the 'car alarm' and pressed the red button. A tiny pellet imbedded itself in the fugitive's skin, releasing a chemical into his system. "Transmission tone, SELMA." In a sudden flare of light, Max Lake disappeared.

"Well done, Captain." SELMA congratulated. "The diamonds may now be returned to the Capperi Estate."

"Yes. Place a call to the desk officer at the local station. Well....." Darien pocketed his unusual weapon. ".....at least in 2193 the Capperi Diamonds will be located in the Smithsonian instead of some fortune- hunter's bag." He stifled a yawn. "And in 1993, I'm going to get some sleep."

The story of the recovery of the Capperi diamonds by the local police broke on the morning news on all the local stations. SELMA monitored the transmissions silently, allowing Darien to sleep in peace. Having satisfied herself that Lambert had not suffered a concussion as a result of the previous hour's work, she had left her captain to his rest upon their return at 3:00 A.M.

In fact, it was nearly 10:30 before Darien even stirred. He'd been so exhausted that he hadn't even bothered to change out of his clothes or to open the bedspread. He'd simply laid down and fallen asleep almost instantly. The first thing he was aware of was a massive headache. What did they hit me with, a sledgehammer?

"No, Captain. I believe it was a piece of PVC pipe." SELMA's voice startled him into full awareness. He hadn't realized he'd spoken his question aloud. With a small groan, he slowly sat up, rubbing his eyes.

"Visual mode, SELMA." Darien commanded. Instantly, the image of SELMA--a Specified Encapsulated Limitless Memory Archive--flickered into holographic life at the foot of the bed.

"The police are baffled by the lack of clues to the thief's identity in the Capperi case. According to my records, the case was never closed." SELMA reported. Darien got up and padded in his sock-feet for the bathroom. (He had remembered to kick off his shoes before collapsing onto the bed.)

"Place an ad in the Post, SELMA; they can close it now." The holographic image glanced up, immediately responsive to her captain's request. "After two hundred years, it's about time, I think."

"Done."

Darien rumaged around in the medicine cabinet for the aspirin he'd bought just a few days earlier. It was primitive, but at this point he'd take it with good grace and a smile because his head felt like it was going to fall right off his shoulders. He caught a glance of himself in the mirror, with SELMA's image flickering just behind him. For a brief moment, he felt the odd sensation of being out of place. Because, of course, he was out of place. Two hundred years out of place, having come back in time to find criminals from the 22nd century who had escaped here to the 20th century, and to return them to the future. The image that gazed back at him from the mirror was thoughtful. Serious eyes, dark hair. Nothing in his outward appearance communicated that he was anything other than Darien Lambert, U.S. citizen, with an average, everyday car alarm and a regular Mastercard. (The clever idea of disguising SELMA as a 20th century credit card had been a stroke of genius.) With each successive mission, he had become more comfortable, fitting himself into the living history around him, but every now and then, it would strike him afresh that this was not home and that home was very.....far off.

"Captain Lambert?" SELMA prompted, shaking him out of his reverie. Darien splashed water on his face and reached for the towel. A shower would come later; breakfast first. SELMA's image "followed" him as he wandered into the small kitchenette. "What were you thinking about? If you don't mind my asking." Lambert rumaged around in the refrigerator, pulling out eggs and orange juice. He paused a moment, glancing at the hologram that flickered in front of him.

"Home." He finally answered, pulling out a frying pan. "Just......thinking about people. Friends." Darien absently scrambled eggs as he talked. "Guess I miss it a little bit, being around people I know, places I enjoy."

"Perhaps I cannot fully understand the way you feel, Captain. Aside from being unable to experience emotions, the only home I've ever known is with you. And I've never been away long enough to 'miss' it." The hologram took on a puzzled expression, as if truly curious. And, Darien thought, in her own way, SELMA was curious. After all, she was a limitless archive, even if she was disguised as a lowly credit card. He shook his head slightly to himself as he dumped the scrambled eggs onto a plate and turned off the stove.

"SELMA, I can't imagine having to live here without you." His remark illicited a slight smile from the holograph, even though the compliment would never bring an emotional response. "In any case, that's enough sentimental daydreaming for now. Do you have anything for me today?" Darien poured some of the juice into a small tumbler.

"Scanning." SELMA took on the appearance of a speed-reader, her eyes moving rapidly as she gazed up and leftward. It was almost as if she was reading a message off the ceiling tile above her, an oddity of programming that had taken Darien some time to get used to when he'd first received her. "Actually, Captain, there is nothing currently suggesting fugitive activity at this time."

"Nothing? No 22nd century weapons have shown up in a robbery, or anything like that?" Darien paused from his eggs long enough to regard the hologram curiously.

"Nothing. Captain, may I make a suggestion?"

"Certainly." Lambert took another bite.

"This is an excellent opportunity for some recreational activity. There's a place not far from here--"

"Recreational activity?" Darien finished his breakfast. "Any particular reason for that idea?"

"Yes, there is. You have tracked eight fugitives in a five and a half day period. As your well-being is of utmost concern to me, I believe some relaxation would be in order. Of course, it is only a suggestion."

"Hmmm." Darien picked up his dishes and carried them back to the kitchen sink. He glanced out of the small hotel window, and caught sight of the high Virginia hills not far off. A memory flickered in his mind like a summer breeze, and he smiled. "You know, SELMA, you just might be right. I probably can use a day off.....I haven't gone hiking in a long time."

"I was about to suggest that very thing. Perhaps you did not realize it, but we are only a few miles away from Mount Avar. Of course, it won't be named that until the year 2023. In this era it is known as Davis Peak."

"Mount Avar?" Darien's eyes lit up. "I haven't been there since I graduated from the Academy. Some of my classmates were from here, and we came down on weekends a few times to go hiking or camping up on the mountain. I thought the area looked familiar, but so much has changed in two hundred years."

"The mountain hasn't. At least, not significantly."

"I'll take your word for it. You up for a walk in the woods?" He grinned. SELMA returned the smile, and the matter was settled. Darien Lambert would take a day off.

TWO

Ryan Jaron fidgeted in his booth at Mike's Diner, his big hands tapping out his boredom on the tabletop. Living in Cogan Station was no picnic for any teenager who dreamed of brushing the small-town dust off his feet and finding the big time. It had been even harder for Ryan, being shuttled around from foster home to foster home. He'd been labeled a "hard case" and never seemed to stay anywhere very long. Ryan had become a loner; quiet, self-sufficient, tough. He'd had no choice after being dumped here in Cogan Station, abandoned at the age of 12. For awhile he'd hoped to be reclaimed, but as the years had gone by, the hopes had faded, and now as a young man at the age of 25, he thought of the place as home. It hurt too much to remember the other place, the place where he'd been before coming here.

The door swung open, and Ryan looked up, startled by the appearance of anyone this late in the morning. The breakfast crowd had all gone to work, and the lunch clientele wasn't due to start showing up for about another hour. The man who'd entered the diner was dressed smartly in a dark grey suit, and for a moment the sunlight coming in the near window made it hard to see his face. The man approached Ryan, suddenly sitting down across from him. Ryan looked at him and his eyes widened as recognition ignited in his brain.

"You came back for me!" Ryan's voice was close to cracking with disbelief. "What happened? Why did leave me here? I waited for hours everyday for you to bring me back, and nothing happened."

"To be very honest with you, Ryan, I couldn't bring you back. There was a......flaw in the design. It's been fixed now; otherwise I wouldn't be here. But there is something that needs to happen before we can leave." The man answered calmly. Ryan remembered the light accent that he'd never been able to place, the clipped tone. Ryan shifted a bit.

"What?" he asked quietly. "I did everything you asked me. What more do you want from me?"

"I want you to make one more.....acquisition for me."

"What are you talking about?" Ryan was becoming more uncomfortable. The man levelled a penetrating gaze at him.

"I need you to get me a credit card. A.....very particular card. I know you have expanded on your talents since you've been here.....after all, you've managed to survive for over ten years by your wits alone."

Ryan dropped his own gaze for a moment before very softly whispering,

"Yeah. I've got a little.....'joint' partnership going here, if you know what I mean. It's extra cash."

"Hardly legal, I'm afraid." The man's voice had become quiet, too, but old Mike was half-deaf anyway and could've been standing right next to them and not heard the conversation. "Do you want to get out of here, Ryan?" Jaron looked up, and his eyes showed what he wanted. "Then I need you to do this. The card I'm looking for is a Mastercard. It belongs to this man, Darien Lambert." A picture was handed over, and Ryan studied it. "It is my understanding that he is currently located in a town not far from here named Oak Hill. Do you know where that is?"

"Sure. There's an old warehouse there; it's where I meet my......customers."

"Very well. You know what to do. Get me that card, and then we'll go home."

"All right......I'll do it, Dr. Sahmbi."



The air was crisp, the sun warm, the breeze light; in short, a perfect early fall day. The leaves were just beginning to turn, a riot of color on the hillside. A brook babbled its way happily downhill. Birds chattered, but other than that, it was.......quiet. A little peace, Darien realized, could go a long way. SELMA had been right; he'd needed this.

Lambert hiked along the hillside, abandoning an established path and striking off into the woods themselves, wandering in no apparent hurry. He'd brought along a small backpack crammed with the necessities for a picnic lunch, and a book. It had been so long since he'd had a few quiet hours to read, he hadn't been able to resist the idea.

"SELMA, this is fantastic." It was the first thing Darien had spoken in about an hour; he had simply been enjoying the quiet surroundings and the physical work of hiking through the woods.

"After our discussion this morning, I thought you might appreciate a familiar place." SELMA answered from inside Darien's windbreaker.

"Hmmm.....thanks." Darien sat down on a fallen tree trunk, taking a moment to catch his breath. He'd pushed steadily up the slope, about three miles from his starting point, and it was already mid-afternoon. "This looks like a good spot." He shrugged out of the backpack and pulled out his feast--some ham and cheese sandwiches, a small bag of crackers and a thermos of coffee. He spread out the small blanket he'd stuffed in the bottom of the pack and stretched out with his book, a man on a mission of solitude in the middle of the woods.

He was deep into chapter four, with two of his three sandwiches gone and a few crackers left, when he heard some twigs snap loudly off to his left. Instantly he put down the book and looked that way. "SELMA?"

Before the computer had a chance to respond, a doe pranced daintily into the clearing. Darien instantly froze, not wanting to frighten her off, watching the young deer gaze at him with her large brown eyes. Its ears twitched, as if puzzled; Darien was upwind and the doe couldn't smell him. For a moment man and animal regarded one another in a sort of suspended animation. Blinking, breathing, but frozen in time for that one instant--

The breeze kicked up, ruffling the pages of the still-open book. The noise wasn't much, but it was enough to startle the doe, which bolted through the clearing into the trees just opposite her.

"Amazing." Darien gazed in the direction the doe had gone. The wind blew through the clearing again, and this time it carried the promise of another chilly evening. The shadows would be gathering soon; it was time to go back to the hotel. He began putting his things into the backpack. "What time is it, SELMA?" Darien swung the pack up onto his shoulders and began the long trek back to the dirt road where he'd parked the car.

"Four-thirty two. Have you enjoyed your 'day off', Captain?"

"Completely. Thank you very much." Darien took a more direct route down the mountain than he'd taken going up, shortest distance between two points and all that. He whistled lightheartedly as he walked, feeling more relaxed than he'd been in a long while.

"Once Upon The Wind." SELMA interjected, and Darien stopped his whistling.

"What?"

"That song. You were whistling Once Upon The Wind, written by Skye Belder in 2168." SELMA explained, and Darien smiled to himself.

"I remember, yes......one of the staffers at the orphanage used to sing it all the time. We could hear him coming down the hall, humming and singing everywhere he went." Darien stepped around a tree stump. "He never did teach me all the words to that."

"Most likely because some popular variations of the song were not suitable for a boy eight years of age." Lambert laughed.

"I assume you know these variations?" he asked teasingly. SELMA merely made throat-clearing noises, and Darien laughed even harder. "SELMA, you're holding out on me....if I didn't know any better, I'd say you were embarrassed." He reached a place where the stream crossed his path, and he stepped agilely from stone to stone.

"Very well, Captain, if you insist. But I must say--" SELMA broke off and redirected her conversation. "Captain, I'm detecting a heat signature coming from the vicinity of your car. I believe it is being~slang term~ 'hot wired'."

Darien forgot about limericks from old songs and about keeping his feet dry and plunged across the rest of the knee-deep stream, running all out toward the dead-end dirt road where he'd left the vehicle some five hours earlier. The pack bumped along on his back and his socks squished in his boots and he knew he was too far.....too far.

Indeed, by the time he succeeded in reaching the end of the three- mile distance, the car was long gone, and he found himself standing alone on a rapidly-darkening back road. After catching his breath, he straightened up and started walking. This time, however, he wasn't whistling......

Fortunately for Darien, he'd packed a flashlight, so the walk back to town was not as difficult as it might have been. The air smelled of rain, but other than a few sprinkles, it thankfully held off until after he was back inside the hotel. In fact, no sooner had he stepped into the tiny lobby, the heavens broke into a loud downpour, spattering the windows and erupting in thunder and lightning.

"Whew. Guess I just made it." he remarked lightly to the girl who was behind the counter. She glanced up at him, smiled once, then returned to her work. Darien started up the stairs, shrugging out of the backpack as he went.

"Captain, the door to your room is open." SELMA warned softly. Darien stopped in mid-stride, setting his bag on the landing and taking the last few steps slowly. Reaching the room, he placed SELMA's link against the slightly cracked-open door.

"Scan for occupants." he whispered.

"No one is in the room."

Still, Darien remained cautious as he slid SELMA back into his pocket and carefully opened the door. He reached inside and turned on the light.......

The room had been ransacked. The bed was undone, dresser drawers were on the floor, their various contents strewn around. The closet was similarly searched, and clothes were lying on the floor. Darien carefully "cased" the room, making doubly sure there was no one else there. Satisfied that he was alone, Lambert returned to the hallway to retrieve his backpack.

"SELMA, this is ridiculous. First the car, and now this." Darien dropped the pack onto the floor; it didn't seem terribly pressing to put it away when so much else needed taking care of. He knelt down, picking up some socks and his West Point sweatshirt. "Visual mode."

"It is quite obvious the invader was looking for something." SELMA surveyed the damages with him, a dismayed expression in her holographic features. "Since no one was waiting for your arrival, perhaps he found what he was searching for."

"Possible." Darien continued to pick up his scattered belongings. "We'll see if I'm missing anything by the time I'm done here. It must be a fugitive; I can't think of any other reason why this would be happening. Someone knows I'm here, and is trying to gain whatever advantage he can."

It actually took very little time to clean up the mess; Darien hadn't brought a great deal with him on this mission. However, after taking inventory on his belongings, he was more puzzled than ever. The intruder hadn't left any clues to his identity, nothing was missing, and if it was Darien he wanted, he hadn't stuck around for Lambert to return. Darien examined the door carefully for signs of forced entry--particularly futuristic forced entry--but found nothing more than a few scratches which may or may not have been caused from picking the lock; the passkey could've left similiar markings easily enough. "Something's just not adding up. He didn't take anything, and he didn't wait around to kill me. What was he doing here?"

"It is a safe assumption now that whatever he was looking for, he did not find." SELMA answered softly, and Darien nodded.

"Which means he may try again." Darien was overtaken by a huge yawn and he glanced at the nearby clock. Eleven forty-five. "Scan mode, SELMA. Wake me up if anything unusual happens."

"Yes, Captain. Good night." The holograph vanished, and Darien stretched out on the bed, remaining fully dressed for the second night in a row. This time he simply wanted to be ready to face his opponent, should the break-in artist attempt another search-and-seizure operation. The "car alarm"--a Pellet Projection Tube--was on the nightstand, a weapon at the ready should the need arise. Eventually alert concern gave way to drowsiness, and with SELMA on guard, Darien dropped off into a sound sleep.

THREE

The night passed uneventfully enough. The storm had rumbled through part of it, but now as the sun came up, the clouds were beginning to pass away to the south. Ryan Jaron had always liked thunderstorms; he used to love to walk in the rain. His mother used to reprimand him for being so foolish as to be out on the porch in the wet weather; he used to laugh it off.

He missed hearing his mother's voice. He'd been missing that sound since he was 10; his mother had died in a freak accident. Ryan had lived with his father for the next couple of years before coming to Cogan Station.

He missed his father, too.

It was a rare moment when he allowed himself to think about them, about home. Ryan's daydreams were interrupted by the shadow of someone standing above him, and he looked up. Dr. Mordecai Sahmbi joined him on the park bench.

"Have you been successful?" Sahmbi intoned quietly. Ryan shook his head.

"Not yet. But don't worry about it. I plan on getting up close and personal with your buddy Lambert. You'll have your card, I promise."

"You must be careful. He is a Miosh Ti master, after all." Sahmbi replied, looking away as if interested in something other than the thought of Darien Lambert's martial arts skills.

"I've had a few lessons too, if you recall." Ryan stood up. "Meet me back here in six hours." Sahmbi raised his eyebrows slightly.

"Very well, Mr. Jaron. And you'd better deliver on your promise, or the way home is closed up." The older man also rose, and started across the park to the opposite gate. Ryan shivered a bit; wishing he had this over with already. But he shoved his hands deep into his pockets, and walked quickly back the way he'd come. Six hours.....can't waste any time.

The night passed uneventfully enough; the ringing of the telephone startled Darien into sitting straight up, one hand closing around the PPT unit on the nightstand. After the third ring, however, he was a little more aware of himself, and he picked up the receiver.

"Hello?"

"Is this Darien Lambert?" The voice on the other end of the line was youthful and exuberant, evidence that the speaker had been up quite a bit earlier than Darien, even though it was only seven-thirty one in the morning.

"This is Darien Lambert."

"Good, good. This is Sergeant Dale Travis. Are you missing a vehicle, by any chance?" That caught Darien's attention, and he set aside his PPT.

"As a matter of fact, my car was stolen last night while I was out for a walk."

"Well, my friend, we have it here. We found it last night outside of the Dairy Queen downtown. Nothing seems to be missing; looks like some kids just took it for a joyride. If you decide not to press charges, you can come down anytime today and claim it."

"How about......an hour?" Darien consulted the clock again.

"Very good, Mr. Lambert. Have a nice morning, now." But even before the phone was completely hung up, Darien was quickly preparing for a walk to the local police station.

The walk itself was not long, but the morning air was cold enough that Darien was glad to step inside when he got there. The place was rather quiet; Oak Hill was not exactly a hotbed of criminal activity. The duty officer was at the front desk; she was busy stamping several documents. Other than the occasional ring of a telephone, the thump of her inkstamp was the only sound in the room.

Darien approached her, and she glanced up long enough to acknowledge his presence.

"May I help you?" Darien smiled, the familiar sense of red tape creeping over him.

"Yes, please, Officer.......McNeil." He read her namebadge. "My name is Darien Lambert, and I'm here to see Sergeant Travis." That got the officer's attention, and she looked at him strangely.

"Sergeant Travis, did you say?" She had forgotten about the inkstamp for the moment. Darien nodded.

"Yes. Dale Travis. He called me this morning about my car--"

"Sir, that's impossible. Sergeant Dale Travis has been dead for a year and a half." Darien's surprise must have been written in his expression, for McNeil reached out a hand consolingly. "Did you know Dale?"

"We, uh.....no. I talked to someone this morning who identified himself as Dale Travis and said he'd located my car."

"You reported a stolen car?" The officer started shuffling through papers, and Darien shook his head.

"No....no, it was just taken last night, and by the time I got back into town.....never mind. Whoever it was asked me to come here to pick it up." Darien explained, scratching his head both literally and figuratively. "I guess it was some kind of mistake." He turned to go, and McNeil called after him,

"Do you want to file a report on your car?" Lambert merely waved her off and continued on his way outside. There were more important things to consider than just the missing car.

"SELMA, what do you have on a Sergeant Dale Travis?" Darien murmured as he headed in the direction of the local diner. He'd skipped breakfast in his hurry to come down here; it seemed like a good idea to get some now.

"Very little, Captain. After his academy training, he returned here to his hometown and served in his position until his death at the age of 61."

"Nothing unusual about that. What about that phone call?"

"It was placed from the public telephone just outside the station."

Darien crossed the street against the light, but the intersection was vacant, except for another fellow who'd had the same idea and was crossing in the opposite direction. The bumped each other slightly; the young man seemed to be in a major hurry. Darien was about to step onto the curb when SELMA said,

"Captain, you have been robbed." Lambert turned around, his hand instinctively reaching for his wallet, although if it had been gone, so would SELMA. The wallet was in the inside pocket of his leather jacket, but his badge was missing from the outer pocket. The man was still walking calmly along.

"Hey!" he shouted, and the thief started running. Darien took off after him, and the footchase wound its way through narrow alleys and parking lots, back yards and school crossings. The pickpocket was quick, and had the advantage of being thoroughly familiar with the town; it was a challenge to keep up with him.

Finally, though, the thief stumbled on an uneven bit of pavement in an alley, allowing Darien to come close enough to fire his PPT. The green pellet planted itself, and the man dropped like a stone. Suddenly the pickpocket began to shake with convulsions, and Darien's eyes widened in surprise; he'd never seen anyone react to a pellet in such a manner. He hurried to the other man's side, trying to make sure the thief didn't swallow his tongue or something.

"SELMA!" Darien called out as the convulsions subsided. "What was that? I didn't think anyone could be allergic to a pellet."

"That is quite impossible. Allow me to scan him." Darien fished SELMA's link from his wallet and placed her on the thief's forehead. A light pulse emanated from the card momentarily as SELMA began her scan. "A petit-mal epileptic seizure......brain condition and activity suggest that this is a first-time occurance.....Captain, his physiology indicates that he is from our time."

"He's from the future?" Darien was surprised again, and he frowned, turning the information over in his mind. "Can you identify him?"

"Scanning.......He is Ryan Marshall Jaron, age 25. His father is Maryland Enclave Director Michael Jaron. According to my records, he was reported missing in the year 2180, at the age of 12. He was never found."

Darien's mouth dropped open, the significance of SELMA's report hitting him like a freight train.

"SELMA, do you realize what you're saying? In 2180, by the NHA's records, TRAX was still in its experimental stages. Sahmbi was only just beginning to test TRAX on inanimate objects.....scientific recording equipment, things like that. And even then, only teleportation, not temportation. How can Ryan be here now?" Darien ran a hand through his hair. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. "Tom Kane was temported before 2180. Remember, he said he came back in 2176. He said he was one of Sahmbi's first experiments. I didn't think too much about it at the time; I was too busy trying to talk myself into sending him back." Tom Kane had been a fugitive living as a U.S. Marshal in Arizona; Darien had helped him capture an escaped 20th century convict some months ago; Kane had died in the process, before Darien could send him back.

"The trace TXP in Ryan's system is a variant of the current formulation employed by your PPT." SELMA confirmed. "It is consistent with the early notations Elyssa Chang-Knox made of TXP's original chemical structure in her theoretical work. I believe that the interaction of your pellet with this earlier, more volatile form of TXP is what caused the seizure."

"He lied to even the NHA about TRAX. Sahmbi conducted all of his experiments on live subjects, SELMA." Darien glanced down at the motionless thief. "Tom Kane and Ryan were lucky; they survived. I wonder how many of Sahmbi's 'test subjects' didn't."

"May I suggest, Captain, that this may not be the most suitable place to continue this conversation?"

Darien glanced around; the town was beginning to come alive in its own sleepy way. He searched the man's pockets and retrieved his badge, then got the thief up into a one-man carry.

"All right, SELMA. Show me the best way back to the hotel without being seen."

They had entered the hotel by the service entrance, and Darien had managed to get his unconscious charge into his room unobserved. He laid Jaron carefully on the bed, and draped a blanket over him. As he turned around, he noticed a small packet that had fallen from Ryan's jacket, and he picked it up. A nickel-bag of marijuana.

"SELMA, when you examined Ryan, did you find any evidence of drug usage?"

"No, Captain, I did not. There are none of the typical physical effects of marijuana present in his system."

"So he's strictly a dealer." Darien pulled up the end of the blanket and looked at Ryan's sneakers. Nikes. "The kid I tried to grab at the warehouse the night we were after Max wore sneakers just like these. And this is identical to the bag they left behind." Darien put the nickel bag in his pocket. "Visual mode, SELMA. What do you have on Ryan Jaron in this century?"

"Ryan was picked up by the authorities after having been involved in an altercation with some local trouble-makers. When they could not locate Ryan's family, he was turned over to the state and placed in several foster- homes. He also underwent extensive pyschological counselling for nearly a year, because his descriptions of home and family led some of the case workers to believe him delusional and possibly even schizophrenic. Eventually Ryan came to live in Cogan Station, a town just seven miles due east. He's been suspected of various misdemeanors, but has no criminal record."

"Well, as soon as I find out what he's been up to, then I'll send him home. I'm sure his father--"

"Captain, there may be some.....difficulty in returning Ryan to the 22nd century." SELMA interrupted, and Darien looked up sharply.

"Difficulty? You mean we might not be able to send him back?"

"That is a distinct possibility. I am concerned that the trace TXP in his system will react adversely to the current form of TXP, much as it did to your first pellet, causing a more severe and damaging seizure."

"Great. Just.....great." Darien rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "Projection mode, SELMA. Show me the transcripts Sahmbi submitted to the NHA on his early TRAX experiments."

"Scanning.......I have them." SELMA displayed the information requested, and Darien skimmed the first few paragraphs.

"How many of these reports were turned in to the NHA?"

"My records indicate there were seven such reports filed with the NHA between July 2180 and October 2183, the only documentation ever produced on TRAX."

"Right before his funding was officially cut off." Darien noted. "And after Tom Kane had already been temported to the 20th century."

"That is correct. Captain....." SELMA's tone became somber. "Two of those experiments were listed as failures." Darien looked away, his jaw clenching tightly for a moment.

"Then it's probably safe to assume......the people involved were killed." He glanced back at the report still projected in front of him. "And Jaron's here. That leaves four more people we need to locate. SELMA, scan for any NHA records on TRAX or Sahmbi. We need to figure out where to start looking."

While he waited for Ryan to come out from under the effects of the pellet, Darien studied the NHA records on Sahmbi's research, trying to find clues that would point him in the direction of the other four "test subjects" that had been abandoned here. So far, he was drawing a blank.

"There's a two year gap between Tom Kane's temportation and the beginning of the NHA's official involvement with Sahmbi. Somebody had to be fronting the money for TRAX during that time." Darien paced as he thought aloud. "But who?"

"Captain.....Ryan is returning to consciousness."

"Right, SELMA. Voice mode." The projection disappeared and Darien returned to the bed, where the dazed young man was just sitting up. "Easy.....you've had a rough afternoon."

Ryan recognized Darien and rolled rapidly off the bed, coming up with his hands in the Miosh Ti triangle, perfectly balanced on the balls of his feet. Darien raised a hand slowly. "I'm not going to hurt you, Ryan. I want to help you."

"Yeah, well, I'm used to helping myself." Ryan answered, holding his stance.

"I've had some experience with that." Lambert remained watchful, but he allowed his hands to hang relaxed at his sides. "After all, you were the one who trashed this room last night, weren't you?"

"You haven't got a bit of proof." Jaron came around the end of the bed slowly, still on guard.

"Maybe not, but I could always turn you in for possession of this." Darien pulled the nickel bag out of his pocket and held it up. "I believe we've met once before--the warehouse at the end of town? You took a swing at me with a pipe."

Ryan's response was to snap a kick in the direction of Lambert's jaw, a move Darien countered easily, blocking and backing up a step, not wanting to strike back. He needed answers from Jaron.......if he could get them. Ryan followed up with a series of blows, only one of which he actually managed to land, and that only because Darien misjudged slightly. The rest were blocked effortlessly, fair proof that Darien was much better trained in the martial art than Ryan. Jaron backed off, but still stood ready to fight, his eyes watching Darien closely.

"Why did you bring me here?" Ryan wanted to know. "Why not dump me with the cops?"

"Because I am a cop. Captain Darien Lambert, Fugitive Retrieval Section, from the year 2193. I brought you here because the pellet I shot you with caused an epileptic seizure. I wanted to make sure you came out of it all right." Darien watched as Ryan slowly lowered his hands.

"Seizure? What are you talking about?" Ryan sat down on the edge of the bed, trying to decide if he should trust Darien or not. Lambert could tell he was being sized up, and he remained where he was.

"The chemical Dr. Sahmbi gave you before he sent you back here is dangerous. It's called TXP, and the formula has changed a couple of times since you first came. The original compound in your system is a little more unstable than the current version. It reacted to the pellet, causing the seizure."

"So....why are you here? Sahmbi send you back, too?" Ryan wanted to know. Information, after all, often came in handy.

"In a matter of speaking. Dr. Sahmbi sent many fugitives to this time. I came to find them and send them back."

Ryan's eyebrows lifted slightly. Fugitives? Interesting. I bet those NHA chips came in handy after all.

"So......can you send me back?"

"I don't know. There were a lot of changes in the temportation process--"

"Temportation?" Jaron was frowning now; Darien nodded to himself. Of course; Ryan had only been twelve years old when he'd been sent back. TRAX might not have even been named yet.

"Temporal transportation......temportation. Anyhow, there were some modifications made that might make it hard for you to go back." Darien sighed. "I'm working on it. But I need your help. There are four other people who were sent back like you were, and most likely abandoned here like you were. I need your help to find them. If there is a way to send you home, I'd like to send all five of you."

"Why should I believe you?" Ryan demanded, and Darien returned his gaze honestly.

"I give you my word. That's all I have to offer." The two looked at one another for a long moment, and then Ryan nodded. "All right. Let's start at the beginning. How did you become involved with Mordecai Sahmbi?"

FOUR

Ryan's recollections of his first meeting with Dr. Sahmbi were a bit sketchy, but after all, ten years and two centuries had come between them. Sahmbi, it turned out, was an acquaintance of Ryan's father, and had visited the Jaron home a number of times. These visits were often held in his father's study, so Ryan had no idea what they were about. After a few months, however, Sahmbi had turned some attention toward Ryan, and it was not particularly welcome. Somehow the scientist had discovered Ryan's talent for computers and had pressured him into hacking into the NHA's database; Ryan said Sahmbi had used 'subtle threats' against his father and sister. Ryan had only been ten years old, but had been described as 'gifted' by his teachers in school, and he had the talent to do as Sahmbi asked. The information was all classified, so Ryan had never bothered to find out what it was; he simply obtained it and passed it on to Sahmbi. Eventually, though, his conscience caught up with him, and he resolved to tell his father. Ryan declared his intentions to Sahmbi, and that same day, in 2180, Dr. Sahmbi sent Ryan into the 20th century.

"So you stole government secrets for two years for him, and never got caught?" Darien had to admit, even though Ryan had broken the law many times over, he was impressed that a ten year old could have broken into the NHA database, something that his own police force had never been able to do.

"That's about the size of it."

"So why did you break in here last night? And bait me this morning? What were you after?" Darien asked. Ryan shrugged.

"I've been picking locks and pockets long before you showed up here, Lambert. Out-of-towners are usually easy marks and I've had to be pretty self-sufficient most of my life here. When I didn't find anything worth taking here, I thought maybe I could score some cash from you today, if nothing else."

"And the drugs?" Darien pressed. Ryan sighed.

"That was almost an accident, how that got started. Let's just say I know some people who wanted someone with some brains to operate a local distribution network. I've got brains, they had money. End of story." Darien got up and walked into the bathroom, judiciously disposing of Ryan's 'nickel bag'. Ryan's voice turned wistful. "I just wish I could start over again."

"I'm glad to hear you say that." Darien remarked from the doorway. "If I am able to send you back, I'll have to let my superiors know about what you did. But considering the circumstances, I don't think anyone will be very hard on you. I'm sure you'll get that opportunity to start over."

Wish I could believe that. Ryan thought to himself.

Click....click....click....click....click. SELMA signalled Darien, and he straightened away from the doorframe. "Pager." he explained, and Ryan nodded. Lambert walked over to the phone and picked it up, turning his back toward Ryan and speaking softly. "What is it, SELMA?"

"I have been searching my database on Michael Jaron, and have uncovered some interesting information that I believe was placed here by accident."

"Explain."

"I have found some unauthorized documents pertaining to the trial of Derrick Westerman, the former director of the NHA. This was a closed-court proceeding, and highly classified, so how this made its way into my files, I am not sure."

"I remember hearing something about that.....some sort of witch-hunt for moles in the organization. There was a lot of house-cleaning done within the ranks. If I remember, Westerman was charged and convicted of creating some sort of 'shadow organization' within the NHA, a group that was operating covertly with their own agenda."

"That is quite correct. He was imprisoned in 2181, on a life sentence. Apparently, in a vain attempt to gain clemency from the court, Westerman named several other individuals allegedly involved with this shadow organization. One of them was Michael A. Jaron, Ryan's father. Westerman named him as a 'pocket man' for the outfit. Captain.....what is a 'pocket man'?"

"Um....a 'pocket man' is a term for someone specializing in.....shall we say, creative financial management? Sometimes the funds in question are referred to as 'pocket change'. Often these funds are used to recruit new agents into the field."

"Ah. I see; money laundering."

"Exactly. And that would explain where Sahmbi was getting his money from during that time; if Jaron was trying to 'recruit' him to develop TRAX for this shadow organization, that makes a lot of sense. Only Sahmbi was playing both sides of the fence, as usual, and used Ryan to gain information that would help him link up with the NHA if Westerman's outfit folded up." Darien cleared his throat softly as he glanced back at Ryan. The younger Jaron seemed to be occupied with staring out the window. "What happened to those allegations concerning Jaron's links to Westerman?"

"Nothing. After some investigation, Michael Jaron was declared innocent of wrongdoing; no formal charges were ever brought against him. However, there were others named by Westerman, and Captain.....all four of them disappeared between 2181 and 2183."

"Did you say, four?" Darien murmured. "Cross reference those disappearances with those transcripts from Sahmbi's experiments."

"Scanning." SELMA paused a moment. "Captain, the dates match almost exactly within twenty-four hours of each other."

"So......once the NHA took over TRAX' development from the shadow organization, they conveniently got rid of their four moles, and Sahmbi wasn't lying to the NHA--he was helping them cover up with those reports." Darien sighed. "Cozy little arrangement. Thanks a lot, SELMA." He 'hung up' the phone, and headed into the kitchen. "Do you want anything?" Darien called out to Ryan.

"No thanks."

Lambert got a glass and opened a soda.

"You know, sometimes I think the best thing about being here is that-- " Darien turned around, and Ryan was right there, having come behind him silently and swiftly. Before Lambert could even react, Jaron was swinging with a Miosh Ti move, a heavy glass hotel ashtray in his hand. The blow caught Darien just above his left eye, and he staggered back, everything spinning crazily around him. Ryan closed in and struck again, and this time Darien dropped to the floor, unconscious and face down. Jaron turned him over quickly and searched Darien's pockets. Finding the wallet, he checked for the Mastercard.......yes! Jamming the wallet into his jacket, Ryan quickly left the hotel room, clattering down the front steps and out the door, hurrying to make his appointment with Mordecai Sahmbi. Because, after all, Sahmbi was his best hope of making it back home. There would be no criminal record, no report of actions that might hurt his father, and best of all, no more Cogan Station or Oak Hill. He was beating the dust of these little towns off his feet and going back to Washington City......2193.

Mordecai Sahmbi waited in the park where he'd met Ryan a mere six hours earlier, watching people absently as they walked by. Amazing, how easily he could control his own destiny in a place like this. People were small and petty, easily twisted in the 22nd century; here they were merely simple. Ignorant of their fate, the wars and devastations to come, and the hardness of attitude and thinking that would come out of the next two hundred years. Of course, the 20th century was not lacking in its own element of darkness and intrigues, but there was something here that made Sahmbi much more aware of his own power than he'd been aware of it in 2193. Once upon a time he had been as altruistic and optimistic as Darien Lambert, but certain realities had taught him to become.....more practical in his thinking.

Twelve-fifteen. Ryan Jaron was late. Sahmbi decided to be patient; after all, his prize was of utmost importance, and Jaron wasn't going to waste an opportunity to be reunited with his family. So he watched the people around him and thought about how he was going to control, not only his destiny, but theirs as well.......

A flutter of wings as nearby pigeons were disturbed announced Ryan's hasty arrival. Sahmbi looked up coolly at him, and the young man shrugged a bit.

"So I'm a little late. I don't think you should worry too much, Dr. Sahmbi." Jaron flipped Darien's wallet into the scientist's lap. "You've got your credit card." Sahmbi quickly opened the wallet and pulled the card from it, slipping it into a special case he'd brought along just for this purpose, then tucked the case into his coat pocket.

"And I have you. Very well, then, Mr. Jaron. It's time to send you home. Come with me." Mo Sahmbi came to his feet, and he led Ryan from the park. Phase Two was about to begin.........

The first thing Darien was aware of was that his hand was wet. The next thing was that for the second time in three days he'd been clobbered hard enough to really hurt. He was lying on his back on the cold kitchen floor, and for a moment he had a hard time focusing his eyes. Slowly he sat up, and he groaned as the motion produced waves of pain in his head. He noticed the spilled soda; the reason his hand was wet........and sticky. Darien glanced at his watch. It was nearly two-thirty; he'd been out cold for almost three hours. He closed his eyes for a moment, feeling as if the mere act of thinking was going to hurt too much to even attempt. Of course, Ryan Jaron was long gone.

"SELMA?" he murmured, carefully climbing to his feet. Dizziness rushed over him and he grabbed the counter, but just as quickly the sensation passed and he leaned back against the counter. "SELMA, visual mode." Nothing happened, but in his dazed state, it took a few beats for Darien to realize there hadn't even been a vocal response. "Visual mode." Suddenly it dawned on him just what had happened, and he checked for his wallet. Gone. "SELMA!" Darien swore softly. After all, without SELMA, his mission here was finished......

Okay, okay, Lambert.......Darien drew in a deep breath. Get yourself together. He still had his PPT. Well, that was something. He wondered briefly if SELMA had tried to contact him already, while he'd been unconscious. Darien caught a glance of himself in the reflection from the kitchen window, and even in that faint image he could see the bruise on his forehead. "Okay, think." Darien directed himself, trying to get a handle on the situation. He made his way to the telephone, swaying slightly on his feet. Quickly he dialed SELMA's unlisted number, but he received no response from the memory archive, just a busy signal. He tried the automated access code from SELMA's manual, and upon being identified by the automated system was informed that 'your archive is unresponsive to this message. Please try again'. Darien hung up the phone, and turned around. Unresponsive? What was that about? "SELMA, I hope you're all right....."

Suddenly there was a soft knock on his door, and Darien pulled out his PPT. Never mind the fact that he was still too lightheaded to aim it properly. He held it ready at his side as he called out,

"Come in."

The door swung open, and Officer McNeil stood there.

"Mr. Lambert, I thought I'd stop by and--" McNeil got a good look at Darien, and she stepped right in. "Good heavens, what happened to you?"

"I'm.....uh.....all right." Darien pocketed his PPT and took a step forward. But he was off-balance and he nearly stumbled into her.

"No, you're not. You should have a doctor look at that." She steadied him and guided him over to the bed, where he sat down gratefully. "That's quite a shiner you've got there." Her fingers gently brushed his hair out of the way for a better look at the bruise.

"Shiner?" he murmured, not quite sure what she was talking about.

"You got hit pretty hard, I'd say. Let me take you over to Doc Adams'--" She pulled on his arm, but Darien reached up and took her hand.

"No.....I'll be all right. Really." He assured her, and he motioned for her to sit down. "What did you want to talk about?"

"Well, I was going to ask you about your car, see if I could file a report for you and get something started on it. But.....seems to me like you've got more problems than just a stolen car." McNeil's eyes were looking rather probingly at Darien, as if just by staring she could get him to open up to her. They were very green, those eyes, a tribute to her Irish heritage along with her auburn curls. But the gentle Southern lilt to her voice had come from years of living in Virginia.

"My car....." To be honest, Darien had quite forgotten about the vehicle in the rush of the day's events. McNeil already had a notepad and pen out. Darien regarded her for a long moment, then thought perhaps she might be just the help he needed to locate SELMA. After all, it worked the last time SELMA was stolen..... "As a matter of fact, I do have another problem. Here....let me explain." He reached behind himself to pick up his jacket, from which he produced his badge.

"Captain Lambert." McNeil murmured upon inspection. "And all the way from Washington, D.C." She handed the badge back, then stuck out her hand. "Molly McNeil. I've been a deputy sherriff here for almost four years now." Darien accepted her hand; was slightly surprised at the firmness of her grip. "What brings you to a teeny place like Oak Hill, Captain?"

"I've been working a case, undercover now, for almost a year." Darien improvised. "One of the principles in my investigation is living out in Cogan Station. Fellow by the name of Ryan Jaron."

"Ryan?" Molly's eyes widened slightly. "I always knew that boy was a little mixed up in the head, and we've thought for years that he's been a pusher, but never got anything on him."

"Pusher?" Darien echoed, puzzled.

"You know....dope. Mary-Jane." McNeil replied. Darien wasn't familiar with the term "mary-jane", but understood that she was referring to the marijuana, and he nodded.

"Sometimes in our line of work, hard evidence doesn't come that easily, I know." Lambert shifted a little bit, facing Molly more fully. "I can't reveal all the details of my case; some of it is classified. But I do think Ryan is involved, and I have to find him." There was something in the urgency of Darien's tone that made Molly nod in agreement.

"All right, Captain. I'll do what I can to help."

FIVE

The drive out of Oak Hill had been less than an hour, maybe forty minutes. Sahmbi had made Ryan drive, directing him with terse instructions along the country backroads. Eventually they arrived at a large, abandoned house that was set back well away from prying eyes; most people had forgotten the place even existed. Only a few very old folks even knew anything about it at all. The place was overgrown with weeds and scrubby shrubbery, the wisteria growing in wild vines all along the side of the house, overrunning half-rotted trellises and practically dominating the entire side of the west wall.

"This is nice." Ryan remarked cheerlessly, but Sahmbi said nothing in reply as the car was pulled in as far as it would go.

"Come with me, Mr. Jaron. In order to return you home to your father and sister, we need to make some preparations." Sahmbi exited the car, and after a moment, so did Ryan. There was something in the scientist's tone that made him feel.....insignificant, somehow, as if nothing he'd ever done for the man had ever really been appreciated.

"Yeah, right. Last time there wasn't any preparation. It was just 'let's dump the kid in the past and let them sort it out'." Ryan followed Sahmbi sullenly, just wishing this were over. He couldn't get the picture of Darien lying unconscious on the floor out of his head. He hadn't even bothered to make sure Lambert was still alive........and the thought that he was so desperate to go home as to kill someone...... Well, it chilled him, and he just jammed his hands into his pockets and shut up.

The two men, older and younger, entered the dilapidated structure, and Ryan looked around. Seems steady enough.....better watch where I walk, though.

"I've already explained that there was a problem with the system at the time I returned you. I had no choice but to leave you in this time." Sahmbi replied coolly. "Actually, TRAX had several shortcomings, all of which I plan to conquer in time." He opened a door that led downstairs into the cellar. Ryan hesitated a moment, then at Sahmbi's request, started down the steps.

He was absolutely amazed at what he saw. Some of the most sophisticated computer equipment of this time was set up here, in a well- lit, completely converted basement. Ryan, his attention always arrested by computers in both centuries, couldn't help but be impressed at the setup. Certainly it was crude compared to 22nd century standards, but for this time it was a nice little bit of hardware. At the far end of the room was a small booth, vaguely resembling the TRAX chamber from 2193.

"I bet this took a little time to put together." Jaron murmured. Sahmbi smiled, knowing full well the talent of this boy before him, and to what use he was about to put that talent.

"Yes, it did. Captain Lambert's case conveniently brought him here; I didn't have to make any special arrangements to secure his presence in order to acquire this--" He tapped the case in his pocket that contained SELMA. "Now, Mr. Jaron, about those preparations......I need you to override a computer system. This system is absolutely essential to the success of my plans.........and therefore, to the success of your return home. Do you understand me?" Mordecai Sahmbi's tone had grown quite cold, ominous, and forceful. Ryan frowned a little bit.

"What plans? You wanted a credit card, I got it for you. I'm through with doing your laundry, Sahmbi. Just send me home, and we'll call it even."

"Ryan....." Sahmbi's eyes narrowed slightly. "You'll do as I ask, or you'll not only never go home, you won't live to see tomorrow. Now that, I promise you."

"All right......all right. So you've got me by the throat. Are you happy now?" Ryan snapped. Sahmbi inclined his head momentarily.

"If you say so, Mr. Jaron. Now, about that system....."

"Who is it? What's the target?" Ryan sat down at the computer terminal the scientist had set up for him. Sahmbi removed the case from his pocket and took the Mastercard from within. Waving it once, he slipped the card into the terminal's drive.

"That's your target. Ryan Jaron, meet SELMA, Captain Lambert's computer."

"You will not be successful in your plans, Dr. Sahmbi." SELMA asserted immediately.

"What the blue fire rings is that?" Ryan gasped, simultaneously amazed and startled.

"It is a 22nd century mainframe, Ryan, an encapsulated memory archive. I estimate you have approximately two hours before this unit overruns the special safety protocols I have installed on this computer. You must gain control of its primary programming overrides within that time."

"You're kidding." Ryan flexed his fingers, feeling the old familiar thrill of the hunt, a feeling he had not experienced in a long, long time. "With this?"

"I've made some.....special modifications to this equipment. You'll see." Sahmbi replied easily.

"You attempted to control my Captain once." SELMA spoke again. "And you failed in that attempt. What makes you certain that you will be any more able to control me?"

"Human beings, " Sahmbi answered easily, "are too....unpredictable. Sometimes the will is stronger than logic dictates it should be. However......computers are governed by very specific parameters. Know what those parameters are, and control is easily enough established." He turned his attention to Ryan. "You'd better get started, Mr. Jaron. You have one hour and fifty-six minutes."

Darien had wanted to start looking for Ryan right away, but Molly flatly refused to go anywhere until he agreed to have himself examined by the local doctor.

"You could be really hurt. And your big undercover case won't mean a whole lot if you end up pushin' up daisies."

Despite his anxiousness to find SELMA and find a way to send Ryan home, Darien found the remark somewhat amusing and puzzling all at once, and his expression turned slightly quizzical.

" 'Pushing up daisies'?" he inquired curiously. Now it was Molly's turn to look confused.

"You've never heard that before?" She asked, and Darien shook his head. "Pushin' up daisies.......you know, buy the farm, turn up your toes, six feet under?"

"Oh, you mean a terminal vacation.......unplugged.......lab slabbed."

"Lab slabbed?" Molly echoed. Darien smiled slightly.

"I know someone who works in a morgue back home; the body drawers sometimes are referred to as 'slabs'." Molly swatted his shoulder, making a face.

"That's really disgusting, you know that?" But she was smiling back at him. "In any case, Captain, I don't want to have to explain to your superiors in Washington how their investigation derailed because you dropped dead." Darien realized she wasn't going to be talked out of it, whether he accepted her help in his search for Ryan Jaron or not.

"I just don't want to get stuck in a hospital bed. There's too much at stake for me to be benched on this."

"I understand, Captain. Let me get my car, and we'll get going." Molly pulled out her keys, Darien picked up his jacket, and together they headed down the stairs.

On the drive over to Doc Adams', Molly glanced at Darien a few times, intrigued. She had sensed something was different about him the moment she'd met him at the station, but now she was beginning to wonder where......and when......he was from. She hadn't heard the term 'lab- slabbed' in ten years, since her days in the NHA......There had been rumors from the others that Sahmbi had sent a lot of people back via TRAX; perhaps this Darien Lambert was one of them. Maybe, like herself, he had been forced to come here against his will. Maybe he had made a life for himself as a cop in Washington, D.C. much as she had here in Oak Hill. Molly wanted to know, but she wanted to know on her terms.

"So......do you like living in Washington?" She asked idly, trying to draw him out. "I haven't been there in years."

"Yes. I've lived in Washington for most of my life." Darien answered, which was true enough. "But I was raised in Chicago."

"Chicago......hmmmm." Molly filed that away in her brain. "You don't happen to be a Cubs fan, are you?" She flicked on her turn signal and took a right hand turn.

"You like baseball?" Darien smiled, his blue eyes twinkling. "I've followed the Cubs since I was a little boy."

"Yeah, I like baseball. But I feel sorry for you, liking the Cubbies. They're lousy this year. I like the Atlanta Braves, myself. More Cy Young pitchers on their roster than anybody else in the league." Molly glanced at him again, and the smile was still there.

"Well......let's just say I believe the Cubs will be great someday." He replied. There was a note of assurance in his tone that registered with McNeil. Yeah, she thought to herself, they'll win a pennant in 2181. Who are you, Captain?

She pulled into the parking lot of a small medical building, and turned off the car.

"Here we are." She announced, opening her door. "I guess we can argue ball later."

SELMA tried once more to contact her Captain, but once again, the special encoded program Sahmbi had created intercepted her signal and prevented it from being transmitted. She had been surprised by how quickly Ryan had been able to access her systems; he hadn't harmed anything vital yet, but he was rapidly hacking his way into more critical areas, and she didn't know how much longer she had before he was in a position to do some real damage. Her own efforts to "break out" of Sahmbi's private network were meeting with moderate success. It had turned into something resembling an electronic game of cat-and-mouse. Her survival protocol prompted her to act in a different fashion; she decided to communicate with Ryan Jaron directly in order to "buy more time" to secure her freedom.

"Ryan, the decision you are making is not wise." SELMA said simply, but Jaron continued his feverish work.

"What do you know about it? You're just a computer." Ryan's fingers flew across the keyboard, finding that all the old skills were still intact, even after ten years of disuse.

"I am a fully realized holographic memory archive, actually. And I know much more about your situation than you realize. Captain Lambert has been in pursuit of Dr. Sahmbi for nearly two years now, and we are quite familiar with his capacity for evil." SELMA continued, as she made a few moves of her own and came that much closer to being able to signal her captain.

"Hmph." Jaron sniffed, but he did not stop. "I found out about that a long time ago. But rotten or not, he's my only ticket out of here, and I plan on doing whatever it is I have to so I can go home."

"Even if that includes theft, assault, or worse?" SELMA replied evenly. Ryan actually hesitated a moment as the image of Darien lying motionless popped into his head again. But it was only for a moment, and he determinedly began typing again.

"Don't try to shake me up. I'm on my way back home, and nobody's gonna know what I did two hundred years in the past."

"But you will know, Ryan. And you will carry that knowledge with you for the rest of your life."

Ryan glanced toward the drive in which SELMA was inserted. For a computer, she seemed to have the uncanny ability to sound like his mother......

"Forget it. I'm not buying into your psychology. I've had enough of that junk to last me a lifetime." Type.....type......type. Another file fell in SELMA's defense, and he was getting closer to getting what he wanted......

"What will you do if Mo Sahmbi cannot send you back?"

The question hung in the air for a long moment, and Ryan sat there frozen, considering the idea for the first time. Darien had said that it might be dangerous for him to try going back......maybe there was something to that.

Then again, it might just be a trick to get him to stop hacking. His fingers returned to their work. However, that moment's hesitation allowed SELMA to break into another file herself, allowing her to send a short, high-speed message for her captain......

Dr. Adams was a kind, older gentleman with graying hair and sharp hazel eyes. He was a stereotypical small-town physician; he had delivered most of the babies in Oak Hill for the last fifteen years and was on a first-name basis with almost everyone in the immediate area. Darien was taken into an examination room by Adams' nurse, and Molly drew close to the doctor.

"Hi, Doc." She greeted, and Adams smiled at her.

"What did you bring me, Molly?" He smiled back in a fatherly sort of way.

"He got beaned pretty good in a break-in. Just wanted to make sure he was all right before we go down to the station. Say, Doc.....if it's not too much trouble, would you mind letting me see his chart before you let 'im out of there?" She motioned toward the room, and Adams followed her gesture with his eyes.

"What for?"

"Let's just say it's for a case." McNeil answered, and Adams nodded.

"Always happy to help the law."

While Adams performed his examination of Darien, Molly sat down in the waiting room and flipped idly through a magazine. Her mind was elsewhere, however. She was wondering what was happening today in 2193. Her daughter, her Maggie, would be eleven years old soon. Molly had been forced to leave her husband and four-month-old baby girl behind by the NHA when they decided she was too much of a liability after the Westerman trial. They had kidnapped her from her own office, injected her with TXP, and forced her into the TRAX chamber.......

"Molly? Are you all right?"

She glanced up, startled, realizing that Doc Adams had been standing there for a moment or two. She brushed away the tears that had begun to form when she thought about Maggie, and stood up.

"I'm fine. Just......remembering something, that's all." Adams handed her a manila folder that contained his notes.

"Your friend has a slight concussion, but he'll be all right. I recommend he takes it easy for awhile. But.....if the concussion heals as quickly as that bruise seems to be, then it won't be long before he's just fine."

Molly glanced up from the notes, curious.

"What do you mean, Doc?"

"I've never seen a bruise that deep begin to dissolve so quickly. Even in the short time he's been here, it's begun to heal."

"Hmm....." Molly glanced back toward the medical notes. Darien's heartrate had adjusted to this time period, just as hers had over the years, so that didn't tell her anything. In fact, there wasn't anything that indicated a 22nd century origin. She handed the folder back. "Thanks, Doc."

A few minutes later, Darien joined her. She looked at his forehead; Adams was right--the bruise was markedly lighter than when she'd first entered the captain's hotel room. It wasn't much more to go on than the slang he'd used earlier, but together they made her feel fairly sure that this man was from her own time. She'd let him know about it when she was ready, though, and not before. Besides the three other NHA agents who had been sent back after the Westerman affair, she had had no contact with anyone else from the future. She wanted to make sure she could trust this captain before she told him anything about who she was and why she was here.

"So....." Darien motioned toward the door. "Ready to get started?"

"Yes, I think so, Captain." Molly answered, and Darien smiled.

"Darien, please." He opened the door for her and she stepped out ahead of him.

"All right......Darien. Only if you call me Molly." McNeil headed for the car, and Darien's smile remained.

"Deal."

The drive to Cogan Station was not long; after all, the towns were only separated by seven miles worth of country roads, not all of them paved. Molly had suggested they try the obvious places first and get them out of the way; Ryan's home, his workplace, the local bar and grill. They were headed for the small piece of land on which Ryan's mobile-home was located, tucked away in the woods about two miles past the actual town of Cogan Station.

"He bought a field from the Millers about a year ago and put a trailer on it." Molly explained as they bounced along a dirt road. "Keeps to himself pretty much. Don't blame him, though. Half the town thinks he's no good."

"And the other half--??" Darien asked, knowing what it meant to be disliked in a small circle of acquaintances.

"Well....let's just say Ryan has about as many friends as fingers on your hand, Captain. I mean.....Darien."

"I see." Lambert thought as much. It must have been very lonely for Ryan, growing up without his family, without his own time. He could just imagine how frightening it had been for the twelve year old to be abandoned in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar customs and dress and dialect......

"What're you thinking about?" Molly slowed down to take a sharp turn that led up onto another road, this one paved. The car eased out over the shoulder of the road, and she glanced at him.

"What?" Darien suddenly realized he'd been spoken to, and he turned his head from the window. "I was just......thinking about how hard it was for Ryan to grow up without his family. His real family, I mean." There was a soft seriousness in his tone that made Molly's breath catch in her throat.

"You sound like you know what you're talking about." She finally remarked, trying hard not to think about her daughter.

"I.....didn't have a family, either." For a moment, Darien's expression reflected a pain long carried, a sad sort of longing that reached deep into his soul. Molly almost said something, but couldn't trust herself to not break down and tell him everything, so she simply bit her lower lip and kept driving. Darien glanced back out the window for a moment, and an uncomfortable silence fell between them. "So....." Lambert finally spoke again after a few minutes. ".....what made you decide to become a deputy sherriff in a town like this?"

"Part of it was necessity." She answered frankly. "After I.....left Washington, I found myself stuck in this little town that had all the excitement of a wet rag, and I had to get a job. I've always been interested in law enforcement; my father and both of his brothers were cops. So I entered the police academy in Richmond. Originally I didn't intend on coming back to Oak Hill, but when I'd spent some time in Richmond I realized that the quiet of the country was good for me. So when I graduated, I came back. Maybe it's not as busy for a cop here as it is in Washington, but I've made a good life for myself here." Molly looked at him briefly. "What made you become a cop?"

Darien smiled a little bit.

"I guess my reasons were a little more.......romantic than practical. My heroes in school were the lawmen of the Old West......I used to read about Rangers and sherriffs and U.S. Marshals until my eyes about fell out. I've always believed that if a person could make that kind of difference in the world, he should do his best to accomplish it. I've wanted to be a law officer ever since I was young." He scratched the side of his nose. "I know that sounds a little silly--"

"Not at all, Darien." Molly broke in firmly. "Not at all. Sometimes those sentimental decisions are the best ones." Molly pulled her car onto a short, hard packed dirt driveway, up to a small trailer sitting in the front part of what has once been a large corn field. "This is the place."

SIX

Molly pulled her car into the parking lot of Mike's Diner. Ryan's trailer had proved to be pretty much a dead end; he hadn't been there and there had been no other clues there as to his current whereabouts. Darien opened the door for Molly, and followed her inside. The little place was quite full; it was a little after five-thirty, and the usual patrons of the diner were there in force. The smell of cooking food reminded Darien that he hadn't eaten anything since he'd first taken Ryan to his hotel room earlier in the day, and his stomach growled in protest.

"Old Mike Hansen's been running this place as long as anybody can remember. It's practically a landmark here in Oak Hill." Molly was saying as she led him back toward an empty booth. "Most of the truck drivers who have a regular route through town stop in, often times just for a cup of coffee and a chance to talk with him." She sat down, and Darien slid into the seat across from her. "It's a busy night tonight......might be a little while before we can talk to Mike. Are you hungry?" Molly opened a menu and handed the other one to Darien.

"As a matter of fact, I am." Darien admitted. "But......."

"But what?" Molly glanced up. Lambert looked a bit embarrassed.

"Ryan has my wallet. I don't have any cash."

"No problem, Captain. My treat." Molly smiled. "I recommend the chili; Mike makes the best chili in the county, and his wife's cornbread is out of this world."

"Thanks.....for everything." Darien looked around, taking in the atmosphere of the diner. Most of the people were familiar with one another; some of the conversations being carried on were between adjacent tables. A jukebox was playing in one corner, but not too loudly. "How long has Ryan worked here?"

"Oh, on and off ever since he was fifteen. Mike's about the only person around who's still trying to get through to him." Molly answered absently. Just as Darien returned his attention to her, a waitress came alongside the booth.

"Hi, Lois." Molly greeted the girl. "Two of the chili specials. And.....tell Mike we'd like to talk to him for a few minutes."

"Will do, Molly." The girl scratched down the order onto a pad with a stubby little piece of pencil, and made her way back toward the counter area.

They chatted lightly throughout their meal, comparing notes on baseball, their experiences as cops, and certain points of interest in Washington, D.C. The chili, Darien had to admit, was pretty darn good, and Molly had turned out to be very good company.

"So.......there he was, standing there with his hands in his pockets, trying to look innocent......" Molly was telling the tale of one of her more bizarre arrests, and Darien was laughing so hard the tears were starting to come. "And I said to him, 'Buddy, just what were you planning on doing with that?' And he just smiles and says--"

Molly's story was interrupted by the presence of a tall man in his late fifties, wearing an apron and smiling broadly.

"Hello, Miss Molly." He looked pointedly at Darien. "Who might your friend be?" Molly blushed slightly; she knew exactly what Mike meant.

"Mike, this is Darien Lambert. Darien, this is Mike Hansen." The two men shook hands, and Mike turned a chair to sit down at the end of the booth.

"What are you needing to talk about, Miss Molly?"

"We need to ask you about Ryan Jaron. Have you seen him lately?"

Mike shook his head.

"No.......haven't seen him since yesterday morning. He was supposed to come in and work today, too. Had to call in Rachel to fill in for him."

"If you see him, give me a call." Darien spoke up. "I'm at the Sunrise Hotel in Oak Hill, room four."

Mike glanced at Molly, and she nodded. There was something about Lambert that made her trust him, and she knew that whatever happened, he would not hurt Ryan.

"All right." The cook agreed. "Is he in trouble with somebody, Miss Molly?"

"We're not sure yet."

"Well, this is the second fella from out of town who's come looking for him." Mike remarked, and Darien looked up.

"Second? Who was the other one?"

"I don't know......I didn't get his name. But he came in here yesterday morning while Ryan was on break and just started to talk to him like he's known Ryan all his life." Mike answered thoughtfully. "I didn't think too much about it at the time."

"What did he look like?"

"He was an older fellow.....tall, dressed very nicely. Fancy suit; looked like he was maybe a lawyer or somethin'. He had a funny way of talkin'.......Ryan thinks I don't hear what goes on around here, but I do sometimes......" Hansen chuckled a little bit. "He had a little bit of accent from somewhere......"

Darien felt a chill sweep down his spine, and he swore softly.

"What is it?" Molly asked. He shook his head, not willing to say anything more just yet. "Thanks a lot, Mike. If you think of anything else, give me a call, okay?"

"You got it, Miss Molly. And bring your friend back here again sometime." Hansen got up and headed back for his kitchen, and Molly returned her gaze to Darien.

"What's wrong?" She asked again, and Darien returned her gaze.

"The man he was describing, I believe, is the main suspect in my investigation. His name is Mordecai Sahmbi, and he's very dangerous."

Molly sat back in her seat, stunned. Mordecai Sahmbi is........here?

"Darien......" She reached across the table and touched his hand. "Let's get out of here. We have to talk."

Darien frowned, puzzled. Something had been troubling McNeil ever since their brief discussion of family, and there was an urgency in her tone that he couldn't ignore.

"All right. Let's go back to the hotel; we can talk there."

Molly was silent all the way back to Oak Hill; she was trying to work up the courage to tell Darien what she knew now she must tell him. Darien was preoccupied by the thought of Mordecai Sahmbi's presence here and his renewed interest in Ryan Jaron. Neither one ventured to break the quiet of their own thoughts, and so the few minutes it took to travel from the diner to the hotel were spent in a tense sort of waiting that was nearly unbearable.

They stepped into the lobby of the Sunrise Hotel, and the girl from the previous evening was again behind the front desk. She stood up on seeing them, and called out,

"Mr. Lambert? You have a message here." The girl turned around to retrieve the folded slip of paper that had been tucked into the keybox labeled with his room number. Darien walked over anxiously, hoping desperately that it was from SELMA.

It was.

Captain, this may be my only message to you; I am uncertain of being able to send another. I have been conducted by Ryan to Dr. Sahmbi, however I am not able to give you my location at this time. Transportation time from Oak Hill to my present location was accomplished in forty-one minutes, twenty seconds. I regret to say I cannot provide more details concerning our position, or about Sahmbi's intentions. I will continue to attempt direct contact with you as I am able. SELMA.

Darien's worst suspicion was confirmed........Sahmbi had sent Ryan to steal SELMA for some perverse purpose, and now she was in his possession. He glanced through the message again. Forty-one minutes, twenty seconds. They could be literally anywhere within a thirty-five to forty mile radius.......Suddenly he felt very tired, and he leaned on the front desk.

"Hey!" Molly was beside him in a moment. "Are you okay?" She was concerned that perhaps the concussion wasn't healing as fast as she thought it might. Darien straightened away from the desk and nodded.

"I'm just running out of time. C'mon." He led the way up the stairs, and she followed him, once more anxiously preparing to explain events she had not told to anyone in nearly ten years........

Ryan's two hours had long expired, and he had only gained partial access to SELMA's primary programming. However, what he had accessed was enough to keep her from breaking completely out of the security program Sahmbi had arranged for. Furthermore, Ryan had gained access to her General Orders file, and it was here that he would begin to exert his control over her. The file was heavily encrypted; even though he was "in", it was going to take some work to reprogram the General Orders matrix with the commands Dr. Sahmbi wanted to insert. Of course, SELMA was actively resisting his efforts, which made it that much more........challenging.

But it was after six now, and Ryan felt like his eyes were going to fall out. He hadn't done so much sophisticated hacking since he was......well, ten years old. His fingers were cramping and he was starting to punch the wrong keys. And he hadn't eaten anything since early in the morning. He hit the security code and paused to rub his eyes.

"What progress?"

Sahmbi's unexpected voice made Ryan jump, and he turned around to see the scientist watching him.

"I've gotten far enough in that I don't think it'll override your safety net. But I'm having a little trouble getting into the command codes. Whoever built it, did an incredible job." Ryan stood up and stretched, feeling the stiffness of sitting in one position for too long. "Look, I've been here for five hours. I don't suppose you've got anything around here to eat?"

"I expected to be finished by now." Sahmbi replied a bit icily. "You could've been having dinner with your father and sister."

What will you do if Mo Sahmbi cannot send you back? SELMA's question came back to his mind, and he tried to shove it aside. Like the memory of Darien's body in the hotel room, it haunted his thoughts.

"Well, things don't always go the way we think they will, do they?" Ryan asked, and the question was as much for himself as it was for Sahmbi. "Look, I'm going to take a walk. I'll be back in a minute." Before the scientist could argue, Ryan pushed past him to hurry up the stairs and out of the decrepit old house. The early evening air, while chilly, was a welcome change from the stuffy basement. The sun was almost completely gone in the west, and the colors of the sunset were already fading from view. He sighed softly. The last time he saw his sister, she had been six years old. He remembered the last conversation he'd had with his father........and he thought about Darien Lambert, quite possibly dead in his hotel room. Suddenly he made a decision. Zipping his jacket, and glancing once over his shoulder, he made a break for it, running all out for the woods on the near side of the field. His father and sister would live without him if they had to. He would continue to survive here if he had to. What he couldn't live with was the possibility of being a murderer. He had to know if Darien Lambert was still alive.

Darien unlocked the door and turned on the lights. Molly followed him in and closed the door behind them as Lambert pulled off his jacket. He dropped it in the chair and made his way to the kitchen to get a glass of water.

"What did you want to talk about?"

Molly took a deep breath, gathering her composure before he returned from the tiny kitchenette.

"Darien, how long have you been here?"

Lambert came out with his glass and leaned his left shoulder against the wall. He frowned a second, thinking. The Max Lake case had actually brought him to Oak Hill a few days ago.......

"About four......or five days. Why?" Molly shook her head; that wasn't what she was after. Time to get......direct. She gazed at him squarely and asked again,

"No. Not that. How long have you been here......in this century?"

Darien very nearly dropped his glass, and he quickly straightened away from the wall, his hand snatching the PPT from his pocket and aiming it at her. Instead of being frightened or upset, Molly simply looked curious.

"No wonder you reacted to Sahmbi's name. You're one of the fugitives he sent back here." he accused, feeling somewhat betrayed.

"Well......not exactly. It's a long story......Darien, please. If Mordecai Sahmbi finds out I'm here, I'm sure he'll try to kill me." Darien slowly lowered the PPT, but held it at the ready, just in case. "Are you really a cop?"

"I am a Captain with the Fugitive Retrieval Section, yes." He answered cautiously. "I came back in 2193."

"So you haven't been here long......" Molly sighed softly. "I was sent back in 2183, and believe me, I didn't ask to be."

"You were involved in the Derrick Westerman trial." Darien put two and two together, and he sat down in the chair to listen.

"That's right." Molly nodded. "I was working out of the NHA home office at the time. I was what is known as a 'trainer'--an internal investigator. In this era they call it "Internal Affairs" at most police stations, except in the NHA, the identities of such agents are kept secret for investigative purposes. I worked as a trainer for seven years, and I got very good at it. In fact, I was the lead agent in the Westerman affair." There was something......painful in her tone.

"What happened?" Molly bit her lip a moment, willing the tears away.

"I supplied all the evidence my superiors needed for the case against Derrick Westerman. The charges were true, all of it. The conspiracy, everything. And I had made it stick, even though I was never part of the formal court proceedings. Westerman cracked and named some names; I started a new investigation and found out that the three people he accused were indeed involved as well. I reported my findings, but nothing ever came out of it because all three of them disappeared. Then I hit the big one......I found out who Westerman's right hand man was.....the deputy director of the NHA. He was acting as Westerman's pocket man, not Michael Jaron, and was actively recruiting Mo Sahmbi into their operation. The next day, someone above me blew my cover as a trainer, and both the deputy director and Sahmbi found out about it. They sent a sweeper team to my office, drugged me, injected me with TXP and sent me here....." McNeil's voice cracked, and she could no longer hold back her tears. "My little girl was just a baby when I left......"

Darien couldn't help but feel compassion for this woman who had been ripped from her life and thrust into one she had not asked for and would never have chosen. He pocketed the PPT and sat down beside her on the bed, drawing her into a gentle embrace, and Molly sobbed into his shoulder. When her tears were spent, Darien tilted her face toward him with his forefinger.

"Sahmbi sent fugitives from our time back here, anyone who would meet his price. I was sent back to find both him and them and return them all to 2193. If there is a way I can send you home, too, I will. I promise." His eyes, his voice, were gentle, but serious.

"She won't know me......" Molly sighed softly.

"She'll learn." Darien replied, still in that same soft, intense tone. "She needs you, Molly." He gave her another soft squeeze, and then stood up. He pulled SELMA's message from his pocket and waved it as he began pacing. "This is a message from my memory archive. Ryan stole her and turned her over to Sahmbi. I have to retrieve her; first of all, she's too important to my mission here, and second, I don't even want to think about the damage Sahmbi could do with a twenty-second century mainframe." He read the message aloud, and Molly listened carefully, brushing aside her tears with her fingertips and nodding. It was time to get back to the business at hand.

"That's not a lot to go on considering the distance they travelled." Molly followed Darien's pacing with her eyes. "Of course, there's also the possibility that they've gone even farther than that. Your archive didn't seem to think further communication was going to be possible; Sahmbi could be in the next state by now and we'd never know it."

Darien exhaled slowly. The thought had occurred to him, too, but he hadn't allowed himself to vocalize it, not wanting to believe that SELMA might be lost to him.

"Let's just......start with what we have. Get a map."

SEVEN

Sahmbi was patient for perhaps ten, maybe fifteen minutes. He was standing outside, deciding on whether or not to pursue Ryan and bring him back to finish the work. The scientist had a sizeable computer knowledge; after all, TRAX had depended on such equipment in 2193. But he was not a hacker; defeating security systems and so on were not his particular specialty.

Finally, he considered the fact that Ryan could potentially be more liability than asset if Jaron was attempting to contact Darien Lambert. Getting into the car, he took a deep breath and turned over the ignition. He had only driven in this century a handful of times and was still not comfortable with it. But his plans were too important to scrap for a nobody like Ryan Jaron. Hesitantly, he put the car in gear and cautiously started for the road........

Those fifteen minutes had been precious to SELMA; she had found another small loop in the security program that possibly could allow her to make further contact with her captain. It was worth the effort. Carefully she opened the file she needed.......

Ryan broke out of the woods and onto the main road, wishing he had a flashlight and cursing that he hadn't taken the car. He'd been so frantic to get away unnoticed that it hadn't occurred to him to simply leave Sahmbi stranded.

Suddenly headlights swept him from behind, and he waved his arms frantically. The vehicle slowed, and stopped, and Ryan rushed up to it. It was a local farmer in his pickup truck; the man opened his window a crack.

"Can I get a ride into Oak Hill?" Jaron asked eagerly. The farmer took in his appearance, and then finally nodded. "Thanks!" Ryan climbed into the passenger side of the truck, and they rattled off down the road toward town.

Darien folded the map and stuck it in his jacket. They had ruled out part of the forty mile circumference because to the south of them was a large marshland, not very negotiable. But they still had a large area to search, and had decided to start due west and swing around clockwise. They would stop at Molly's place first; she had a cell phone that Darien could use to attempt contact with SELMA.

"Ready?" he asked as he put the PPT into his pocket.

"As ready as I can be. What is that thing, anyway?" Molly motioned toward his pocket.

"Miniature PPT." he explained, and Molly shook her head.

"You're kidding! Looks like a car alarm."

"That's the whole idea." Darien grinned, and held open the door for her. "The Section thought it would be a good idea for me to operate.....incognito, so to speak." They headed down the stairs and out to Molly's car. Darien thought of something, and he glanced at the NHA operative. "You knew who Ryan Jaron was, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did. But Ryan doesn't know me from back home, so I've just kept an easy eye on him. His father took it hard when he disappeared." McNeil answered. "I played it pretty cool with you, I know, but I wasn't sure at first if you were really from the twenty-second century."

Darien nodded, his thoughts turning to the search ahead.

"Where are we going first?" he wanted to know. Molly slowed down for a sharp turn in the road.

"Well, I don't think Sahmbi will be standing around in plain sight. There's a couple of old abandoned mines out this way that still have some buildings and things on the property. I thought we could start there."

"Okay." Darien pulled out the map and glanced over the route they had chosen to begin their search. C'mon, SELMA.....give me a sign, here.

The pickup truck stopped at the main light in town. Ryan threw a couple of bucks on the seat to pay for gas and jumped out of the truck. Without so much as a word to the farmer, he sprinted across the street and up the sidewalk toward the Sunrise Hotel. He burst into the lobby and up the stairs; fortunately no one was at the front desk to observe his frantic entrance.

Standing outside of Darien Lambert's room, Ryan took a deep breath. When he went to pick the lock, he was surprised to see that his hands were shaking. Making himself calm down, he finished picking the lock and entered the room. He turned on the lights and headed straight for the kitchen.........

Lambert wasn't there. The spilled soda had dried to a sticky spot on the floor, and the ashtray had been placed on the counter. Ryan exhaled slowly; he had been unconsciously holding his breath. Well......it didn't mean that Lambert wasn't dead; perhaps he had been discovered and taken away. Except......all of Darien's things were still in the room, and Ryan took it as a good sign that Darien was still among the living.

Now, however, Ryan Jaron had a decision to make. He could either help Lambert, or he could help Mo Sahmbi, and there were no guarantees of home with either of them. He knew that now. Ryan decided he needed to think, and he headed for the door. Mike Hansen might not be able to understand his situation, but Mike would listen, and maybe even have a bit of advice.

Ryan started for the door, when the telephone rang. He hesitated for a moment, but in the end his curiosity overcame him and he picked up the receiver.

"Hello?"

"Captain?" Ryan recognized SELMA's voice immediately.

"SELMA, it's Ryan Jaron. Captain Lambert's not here."

"Why are you there?" SELMA asked, and Ryan sighed softly.

"I couldn't live with myself if I'd killed him. I don't know where he is, though."

"We must locate him. You are my only hope; the program you initiated to control my transmissions is quite effective. I must warn you, however, that Dr. Sahmbi is aware of your escape and I believe he has gone in search of you."

"Thanks, SELMA. I'll keep my eyes open for him. I'll find Captain Lambert and bring him to you, I promise." Ryan hung up the phone and hurried out of the hotel room. Clattering down the steps, he went straight for the front desk. The girl behind the desk looked up at him curiously.

"Can I help you?" she asked quietly.

"Darien Lambert, room 3. Do you know where he is?" The girl shook her head.

"No, sir, I don't. He left here a little while ago with Sherriff McNeil, that's all I know."

Darien Lambert was alive! And apparently doing well enough. Ryan felt a huge weight lift from him, and muscles he didn't even know had tensed suddenly relaxed with the relief of this realization. He was not a killer. A two-bit, petty thief, yes, but not a killer.

"Have any idea where they were headed at all?" Ryan was somewhat disappointed; it didn't sound like he'd missed Lambert by all that much.

"Molly asked me about the bridge that was out towards Sykesville......" The girl recalled thoughtfully. That was all Ryan needed to hear. He bolted out of the hotel, heading for the old warehouse. He had stashed Lambert's car there after hot-wiring it the other night, and if he was going to catch up to the Captain, he was going to have to drive it again.

He turned the corner at the end of the street........

........and ran straight into Mordecai Sahmbi, who grabbed his arm and stuck a gun against his ribs.

"I told you, Mr. Jaron, that if you did not comply with my instructions, you would die. Now, I can't kill you here because for one thing, you have not finished what you started. Secondly, it would attract too much attention. Fifty miles from here, in the woods at night, no one will know anything about it."

"How did you--"

"It was a matter of deduction. You were trying to contact Darien Lambert. It wasn't hard to find out where he was staying.....small town like this. Since you are quite alone, I gather you were not successful in your attempt." Sahmbi prodded Ryan with the gun, herding him toward the car. "You'll drive us back, and you will complete the system override of that memory archive." Ryan said nothing, but knew his chances of making a break for it were rather slim. So he climbed into the driver's side of the car while Sahmbi walked around to the passenger side, keeping the gun trained on Jaron the entire time.

Darien held his PPT at the ready, and motioned with his free hand for Molly to cover him while he slipped inside the door of the rundown foreman's office that had been left behind when the nearby mine had been abandoned. She followed him closely, her gun up and her senses alert.

He panned the flashlight around the room; there didn't seem to be any indication of anyone having recently disturbed the place. The only movement was that of a rat that skittered across the floor, startled by the light. Darien sighed softly, trying not to be discouraged.

"Well, this isn't it. Where're we going next?"

"There's another mine about ten miles east of here. We'll go there." Molly replied. Darien nodded, and brushed past her to hurry down the front steps of the little shack. Molly regarded him for a moment as he walked toward the car, thinking about how much he reminded her of Ian, her husband. She often thought of her daughter more than her husband, because to think of him was to wonder if he had found someone else.

"Are you coming?" Darien called out as he got into the car, and Molly shook herself from her reverie. Clattering down the old wooden steps, she hurried out, turning her mind back to the mission at hand.

Ryan walked at gunpoint back into the little basement, suddenly feeling a bit claustrophobic. He sat down at the computer terminal, and sighed. But he didn't touch his fingers to the keyboard just yet.

Sahmbi took a seat a few feet behind Jaron, gun still in hand.

Aware of his presence back there, Ryan finally started to work. However, it was not at the frantic pace of before, for it was with the knowledge that Sahmbi meant to kill him as soon as the work was done. At this slower pace, he was more attentive to detail, and noticed the slight breach in the protocol that had allowed SELMA to contact him at the hotel. It was there that he went first.......no matter what else he had to do to her, he was determined to at least give her--and Darien--a fighting chance. After he finished his work there, he returned to SELMA's General Orders matrix and began hacking his way toward his own death......

As they bounced along a dirt road out toward their next destination, Darien picked up Molly's cell phone and punched in SELMA's automated access code. This time, to his immense relief, he received a response:

"Captain?"

"SELMA! Are you all right? Where are you?" The questions tumbled out one on top of the other; he was anxious for answers to both.

"For the moment, I am relatively unharmed. As for my whereabouts, I am uncertain. I have been prevented from accessing satellite information. But Ryan has allowed me marginal communication, which is why you were able to contact me just now."

"Prevented--? What are they doing to you, SELMA?"

"Dr. Sahmbi is forcing Ryan to ~slang term~ 'hard wire' me into a closed-circuit computer system. Captain, you must find a way to stop him." The connection became a little staticky for a moment, and Darien lost her last few words.

"SELMA? SELMA, can you hear me? What's Sahmbi up to?"

"The system I am being made part of is, I fear, Dr. Sahmbi's attempt at a TRAX control that would allow him to temport animate matter."

Darien's blood ran cold at the thought. If Mordecai Sahmbi managed to create a TRAX control here in the twentieth century.......the consequences would be disastrous.

"SELMA, I have to know where you are. Find out what you can and relay it to this number.......555-4323." The connection was closed, and Darien glanced at Molly. "Well, at least we have contact with her."

"What is the 'good doctor' trying to pull, Darien?" McNeil pulled into the entrance to the second abandoned mine.

"He's already managed to create a TRAX machine here that allows for the temportation of inanimate matter. SELMA and I managed to break up his party on that. Now he's trying for a TRAX that will temport animate matter......and if he does that......well, let's just say we have to find him."

EIGHT

"Darien......I need a break." Molly pulled off to the side of the road. "I fall asleep at the wheel, and we can forget about ever stopping Sahmbi." She rubbed her eyes tiredly and leaned her head back against the headrest. It was nearly three in the morning, and they had searched through abandoned mines and deserted houses, even checked out a small cavern, and were no closer to locating Mordecai Sahmbi than they'd been when they started. Molly sighed softly and ran a hand through her hair.

Darien glanced over at her. He was tired too, but his desire to find SELMA and concern over Sahmbi's latest scheme kept driving him. Still, he needed Molly's help; she was familiar with the area and the backroads, and he could see how exhausted she was.

"Why don't you take fifteen or twenty minutes and relax? I'll wake you."

Molly leaned forward now, and rested her head against the steering wheel with a small groan, thinking it over. Should she tease her body with sleep, or just push through the weariness and continue the search? Suddenly she flinched as she felt a hand on her shoulder, and she turned her head to see Darien looking at her concernedly.

"I'm all right. Just tryin' to decide if fifteen minutes is worth it or not." Darien reached up and began to knead her shoulders, and Molly relaxed against the steering wheel, exhaling in a long, slow sigh. "Hmmm....that feels wonderful. Ian used to do that when I was expecting Maggie."

"Ian's your husband?"

"Yes. I worked the Westerman case right through most of my pregnancy. When Maggie was born, Ian begged me to leave the NHA.....to come home to him and the baby. But I just couldn't leave it.....unfinished like that. And it cost me everything that was most precious to me in the world."

"Sounds like you love them very much." Darien replied softly, thinking about Elyssa Chang-Knox, and how much he wished he'd had more time with her. He stopped rubbing her shoulders and he leaned back against the car seat. Molly sat up and looked at him, hearing the sad note in his voice.

"What about you? Did you leave someone behind when you came here, too?"

Darien closed his eyes briefly.....he could still see her face, hear her voice.....Elyssa......he remembered the scent of her perfume.....recalled her pain as she lay dying in his arms, her weakening voice urging him to stop Sahmbi......

Now it was his turn to be startled as she reached over and touched his cheek. He hadn't realized it, but a single tear had squeezed out, and Molly brushed it away gently.

"Her name was Elyssa." he said simply.

"Was?" Molly's voice was gentle. Darien nodded slowly.

"She's the reason I first came here--Sahmbi killed her." He glanced out the window at the inky blackness, and Molly reached over to take his hand and squeeze it.

"I'm sorry, Darien."

Suddenly Molly's cellphone rang, seeming unusually loud in the quiet car. Darien quickly picked it up.

"SELMA?" he answered.

"Yes, Captain."

"Do you have any more information on your location?" Lambert asked hopefully.

"I have been evaluating various characteristics of my surroundings. From the relative humidity and temperature, I am in some sort of subterean area, quite possibly a basement or cellar of some kind. I have also surmised that this structure has been abandoned for quite some time."

"But I still don't know how close we are to you." Darien sighed softly.

"Captain, I am analyzing the signal from your communications device. It would appear from the strength of the signal I am receiving that you are within a five-mile radius of my location."

"SELMA, you're a gem." Darien closed the connection and looked at Molly. "Anything you know of within that distance that could be a possibility?"

McNeil frowned slightly, thinking about it.

"The only place that comes to mind is the Carver house. Kids have been saying that place is haunted for years. I'm not even sure we could get to it in my car anymore; the private road leading in is so overgrown. But that would be about five miles or so from here."