Title: Rhythm and Blues
Characters/Pairings: some Wash/Taylor feels but nothing concrete, Jim, Lucas, Guz, Reilly, Reynolds
Word Count: 5007
Summary: Pre-finale. Wash is captured on a routine mission to check on an outpost and Taylor can't figure out why. But books and cleverness only goes so far.
"You can look at life as a poem, a story, and you can see yourself . . . In moments like that, you find not only lessons for your own life, but you find something beautiful in ordinary life, something that links you to the past and to the future."
Taylor sat in his office, frowning at his desk. To the unknowing observer it would seem like he was confused by the lack of paperwork (or what passed for paperwork in a world of plexpads) and paraphernalia related to the day-to-day operation of the colony. He thumbed the screen to bring up the clock display. 11 o'clock. A full hour after the 10 o'clock check in time Wash had promised. He hadn't been so worried when 9:59 turned to 10:00, perhaps the trip to the outpost had taken a little longer than expected, but he trusted that she could take care of herself. And Reynolds, who had gone with her, was probably terrified enough of Wash's wrath (not to mention his own) to do as he was told. Well, Taylor reflected, that wasn't entirely fair. Reynolds was a good kid, and a good soldier. He wasn't some wild child who needed to be cowed into proper behavior, though sometimes the invisible hand of Taylor's anger and disappointment served as an efficient motivator for other soldiers. He idly tapped his fingers on the glass of his desk as he thought. Wash's uncharacteristic radio silence was making him unusually jittery. The image of a body splayed lifelessly on the jungle floor, victim of some predator, never to be found again...no, thinking like that wasn't productive in the least. For all he knew their communication equipment had simply broken. It had happened before, and it doubtless would happen again.
A rap on the doorjamb and he jerked his head up. "Shannon," he acknowledged with a nod.
"Good, you're here," Jim replied as he strode in.
Taylor simply arched one eyebrow. Where else would he be? He watched Shannon casually drop into a chair opposite his desk, slouching in the seat. He took a deep calming breath. Times like these really made him wish everyone in the colony had to abide by military protocol, at least in his office. The moody teenager look really didn't suit the sheriff.
"Any news yet?" Jim asked. Guz and Reilly had driven out to Outpost 15 to check, but given the distance were probably still en route.
Taylor shook his head. "Guz checked in about ten minutes ago but they were still driving. Other than the bumpy track they haven't come across anything yet." He chuckled. "It seems Reilly's got quite the lead foot."
"You know," Jim said slowly. "I can actually see that. Goes with the whole bombs and explosives expert thing. Remind me to never ride shotgun with her."
Taylor stood up from his desk, walking over to the display board and pulling up a map of the area around the outpost, his eyes piercing the screen as though he could look right through the filaments of light to the clearing in the jungle.
"Can't you track them on that thing or something?" Jim asked.
Taylor shook his head. "No trackers in the vehicles. Could put a transponder in the vehicle easily enough before it leaves, but nothing to be done about it now. Usually that's not an issue. If the Sixers grabbed them the first thing they would have done is made sure they couldn't be tracked."
"Well I'm sure they'll find them without it," Jim offered, clearly aware that he had said a little too much.
"Commander?" a voice called, crackling as it broke into the room.
"Reading you loud and clear Guzman," Taylor called, not moving from the map but letting his voice carry over to the transmitter on his desk.
"Shannon here," Jim added, standing up.
"No sign of them yet, sir," Guzman said. "Reilly is circling around the back of the main building to see if they took another route. All of the rain lately has caused some of the paths to wash out. Had a bit of a time getting here but Reilly kept us on track." He chuckled. "Don't know where she learned to drive like that but it works."
"Guz!" Reilly's voice called in the background, its muted quality telling the Taylor that she was some distance away.
Guzman took off immediately for her location, his boots squelching in the mud and cracking a few remaining dry branches as he passed.
"It's Reynolds!" Reilly's voice called again, closer this time.
Guzman's feet stopped, the noise of his breathing filling the silent office, an oppressive fog over their apprehensive thoughts.
"How is he?" Guzman asked, the ring of metal on metal echoing across the connection as Reilly clanged against something in the background.
"Just out cold it seems," Reilly said, her voice growing gradually more relieved. "I'm no combat medic but Lieutenant Washington's basic first aid training taught me enough to recognize that. Probably took a shot to the head. Sonic or physical I don't know."
"Commander?" Guzman called, talking directly to them once again.
"What's your status?" Taylor asked simultaneously, anxious to find out more.
"Right," Guzman said. "Found their vehicle. Reynolds was inside, apparently unconscious. No signs of blood or injury other than a good sized bump on the back of his head. My guess is they got him by surprise from behind." He sighed. "No sign of Wash sir. No real signs of struggle but I can't imagine that she went quietly. They must have been staking out the outpost for some time to get the drop on them like that."
"Doesn't look like they're watching anymore though," Reilly called, screeching across the link as she tried to compensate for being further from the mic.
Taylor and Shannon winced, instinctively and simultaneously turning their heads away from the noise.
"Oh, sorry," she said, her voice softer. "Haven't been inside yet but the area seems secure. No other vehicle left behind and no signs that people were even here. Other than Wash and Reynolds of course."
"And no apparent nearby dino activity either," Guzman added as an afterthought.
Taylor exhaled. "Okay, this is what I want you to do. Guzman I want you to make a quick sweep of the inside. Pick up any clues you can about what happened but don't take too long about it. Who knows how long it's been since they took Wash. Reilly you stay with Reynolds. Make him comfortable and try to disable their vehicle so the Sixers can't come back for it. It is not your priority but do what you can. We can always send a team out for it later. Make your way back as swiftly as possible. A medical team will be waiting."
"Understood sir," Guzman said. "I'll close the link for now and check in as soon as we get closer."
"Very well, Taylor out." The connection closed and Taylor wordlessly turned back to the map. He altered a few settings, bringing up a marker at the location of the outpost and orienting the map around the rough position in which Reilly had found the vehicle.
"No blood's a good sign though," Jim said. "Means they specifically want her for something." He shrugged. "Sounds hollow but it's true. If it was just straight violence they would have killed them both. Is there anything she has access to that Reynolds doesn't? She's more likely to know colony security protocols."
"But what were the Sixers doing out there?" Taylor murmured, only half-hearing Jim. "It's not exactly their style. Far away from where their camp seems to be, and such a soft target to be watching." He tilted his head, staring at the map. "So they set a trap, not knowing who'd they'd catch? It could just have easily been Malcolm or someone of little military significance." His shoulders slumped. "I just don't see it. There's no reason to take that kind of risk. If they wanted something from the colony, they'd attack here, or one of our convoys. If it was just a random act of violence, again they'd attack a more obvious target."
"What was at the outpost?" Jim asked. "Anything that could have been any use?"
"Nothing more than the usual. Communications equipment, a few spare ration kits, not worth a raid. We hardly use that outpost anymore. If they were really after supplies again there are much closer targets they could have gone after."
"I'm out," Jim said, raising his hands in a helpless gesture. "Guess all we can do is wait and see if Guz picked up anything out there."
Taylor paced back and forth before the board, hoping just one more pass would reveal its secrets. "Not going to sit around jawing while one of my people's in trouble. If I can figure out where they came from, that's where we'll start. Since Guz didn't mention seeing any other tracks as they drove up—" he dragged an arrow on the screen "—they probably left by the same way Wash and Reynolds arrived." He drew a circle around the outpost. "If they're on foot, accounting for the possibility that Wash is unconscious and the certainty that she's non-compliant, the search radius would be out this far." He drew another circle, extending the area. "By vehicle they could get about this far, assuming they weren't mired down." He ran a hand through his hair. They say stress turns you grey, but what happens when you're already beyond that? "I'm sure Malcolm knows some fancy equation to predict which direction they went, but there's no accounting for the human element."
"Commander?" Reilly called, her voice hurried.
"Sit-rep Reilly!" Taylor barked, snapping to attention so fast his voice lashed out with unusual harshness.
"ETA is 15 minutes. Coming in a little hot with some scaly friends on our tail but Guz is doing a good job of maneuvering out of their reach. Reynolds is conscious but not entirely with it."
"Sending Shannon to alert the medical staff now." With a nod Jim left. The sound of tires fishtailing in grass overtook the connection before a rev of the engine brought the rover back on track.
"Think we've lost him," Guzman's voice called.
"He means the carno that was chasing us," Reilly added hastily.
"Understood," Taylor said, a wrinkle of amusement crossing his brow despite the gravity of the situation. "Any news?"
"Guz found something," Reilly said. "Some kind of leather or parchment it looks like. Nothing I'm familiar with, but maybe it will mean something to you or Dr. Wallace."
"Very well. I'll be at the gate when you arrive and you two can brief me further. We'll go from there."
"Yes sir," Reilly replied.
Taylor cut off the connection and quickly jogged down the stairs to the plaza. His eyes scanned the market twice before setting upon the person he was looking for. He strode over to a corner where a harried looking Malcolm Wallace was engaged in a conversation with a woman whose name he could not quite remember. "Just who I was looking for!" Taylor called, his voice ringing with false cheer that caused their chatter to come to an abrupt end. He nodded politely at the woman and added, "I'm sorry to break up this conversation but Dr. Wallace's expertise is required elsewhere."
Malcolm shrugged helplessly at the woman and followed Taylor over to the gate. "What's going on?" he asked, a note of apprehensive curiosity in his voice. "Not that I don't appreciate the intervention."
"Guzman and Reilly are bringing back something from Outpost 15," Taylor explained. "Don't know if we'll need your help but I'd rather have you there and not need you."
The sound of an engine forestalled any further attempt Malcolm might have made at discerning the nature of the situation. A rover burst into view and a shout went up to raise the gate. The rover slowed as it approached the gate, just barely missing its lowest rung. It came to rest and the medical team rushed forward, gently lifting Reynolds out despite mild protests that he could walk just fine. As soon as he was clear, Reilly and Guzman jumped out and jogged over to Taylor.
"Walk and talk," he said, turning around to head back to the command center.
"Whoever was watching them or followed them did it pretty cleanly," Guzman said. "Didn't leave anything behind except this. The writing looks like no language or symbols I've ever seen." He pulled out a folded document.
"Looks like it was made from one of the local mammals," Malcolm said, peering at it. "Probably an early ancestor of the possum."
"You can tell that just by looking at it?" Reilly asked, half skeptical, half in awe.
Taylor craned his head to look at it. It was an light leather, decorated with a zigzagging array of dark symbols. Oh no. This "mystery" was all too familiar.
Malcolm shrugged as they walked up the steps. "It's not that hard really. There aren't too many mammals around here that are large enough to produce a skin of that size. Surprised the Sixers would have made something like this but some of them do seem like the animal skinning type. Not that there's anything wrong with using available resources mind you. It's just—"
"What did you say?" Taylor asked, forcibly refocusing his mind on the conversation.
"Umm," Malcolm said slowly. "The Sixers? The animal skin?"
Taylor exhaled slowly, turning away to look at the map display still active on the display board. The sooner they could get this over with the sooner he could get Wash back. The sooner they could get Wash back. "It's not the Sixers. It's Lucas."
"Well, I guess you don't need my expertise anymore," Malcolm said at last, turning towards the door. "If you need anything else you know where to find me." He made himself scarce, just as Jim Shannon walked back in.
"Liz says that Reynolds will be fine," he told them cheerily. "Wants to keep him overnight for observation but he should be good by tomorrow." He chuckled. "Good thing too, one nagging woman at home is enough for me." He looked around, finally feeling the dreary air in the room, and seeing the tail end of Reilly and Guzman's frozen expressions as they faded back into military impassiveness. "What happened? Sixers leave a clue?"
Taylor hesitated just a moment, but he wasn't one for wasting time, even in the most usual of circumstances. "Not the Sixers, Shannon. Lucas."
"Oh," Jim said, his voice resounding with all the awkwardness he didn't verbalize.
"This changes the game," Taylor said. "His reasons for taking her may be very different."
"Or he may have none at all," Jim added.
"There is that," Taylor conceded, noting the slight winces in the others' expressions as they spoke about Lucas's motivations. He shook his head. "You don't have to twitch like that every time his name is mentioned. He is still my son. He will always be my son. But right now there are more important things at stake. I refuse to give up that which it is within my power to control."
Guzman straightened his posture, shaking away the look of shame from his face, and asked, "What do we do now, sir?"
"I think I can help you there," Boylan said, walking into the room, a com device in one hand.
"Boylan..." Taylor started, wondering just what he was up to this time. He knew about Boylan's little side dealings with the Sixers, but for the most part they didn't threaten colony security so he left them alone.
Boylan looked around, his gaze lingering on Jim a little longer than the others. "You all know I've got a way to contact the Sixers, and they can get to me."
"Somehow it's always the bartenders," Jim muttered.
"Look Shannon," Boylan said. "I don't know what the others have told you, but I'm not a bad guy, alright? A little smuggling on the side, that's one thing. But this is my home too. Even if I didn't respect Lieutenant Washington I'm no fool. I know my chances of survival, this colony's chances of survival, are far greater with her involved than not."
Taylor shot Jim a pointed glance. They could have their pissing contest another time and another place. And definitely with another judge.
"Lucas jacked the Sixers' signal earlier," Boylan continued. "Said he'd be back in 15 minutes and you'd best be on the other end."
"Did he mention anything else?" Taylor asked.
Boylan shook his head. "Not a word. Almost didn't hear it over the clatter of stacking glasses." He passed the device over to Taylor. "Figure he'll just call again when it suits him. However he did it the first time seemed to work just fine."
No sooner had the room gone silent than the com device crackled to life. "Hello father."
"How did you know Boylan would pass along your message?" Taylor asked, buying time while his mind worked furiously to come up with the best angle to take. Too soft and Lucas wouldn't believe him. Too harsh and it might set Lucas off to do goodness knows what.
"I knew," Lucas replied. The smug tone communicated so clearly over the distance that he might as well have been standing right behind him, whispering in his ear.
"What can I do for you?" Taylor asked, fooling no one with his casual word choice. Thankfully there was no video transmitter or Lucas would surely have something to say about his tense posture, hunched over the device.
"I'm so glad you asked!" Lucas said brightly. "You see, my research has been missing one crucial element. And I thought, who better to help me out than my own dear father?" He chuckled. "If you could see this you'd be so proud of me. You'd post it up on that fancy new message board you've got. Your son, the genius."
Taylor looked up at Guzman in alarm. That had only gone up since the last pilgrimage. Lucas had been watching.
Guzman nodded. He'd take care of security adjustments.
"What is it you need?" Taylor stated flatly, his eyes narrowed. All this chatter was not productive in the least.
"Oh nothing you can't afford," Lucas said. "The jungle seems to be a little low on technological necessities."
"And you figured the best way to accomplish this was to abduct my lieutenant?"
"Like I said, nothing you can't afford."
Out of the corner of his eye Taylor saw a shiver run through Jim's body at Lucas's cavalier threat.
"Didn't bother to take the other one. I couldn't think of a use for him."
Taylor looked up at Jim again, who looked ready to jump into the fray and fight for Mark's honor on Maddy's behalf (he may not be keen on their relationship but there were limits to generally acceptable human behavior), but he was wise enough to remain silent. Taylor turned his attention back to Lucas. "So we get you what you need, you'll return Wash unharmed. I'm going to need a show of good faith here."
"You know what?" Lucas said, the scuffle of boots on the ground indicating he was moving somewhere. "I'm feeling rather benevolent today. Why not?" A moment of noise. "Hello there Alicia. I can call you Alicia right? Why stand on formality when it's such a pretty name?"
A low growl was his only response.
"Now that's no way to act," Lucas told her. The com device screeched, its counterpart protesting at being waved around. "Got a visitor here for you."
"How are you doing Lieutenant?" asked Taylor, careful to keep his voice even.
All he got was a muffled reply.
"She's not feeling particularly talkative right now," Lucas explained.
Gagged then. Probably bound as well. At least she sounded as healthy and with it as one could be in that situation. Lucas began to ramble, something about his cleverness at creating his hideout so close to the colony, but an odd rhythmic tapping drew Taylor's attention away. Short, short, short. Long, long, long. Short, short, short again. A brief pause. Short, short, short. Long, long, long. Short, short, short again. Taylor smiled as he realized what it was. Oh but she was brilliant. Innocent enough to be mistaken for idly tapping her foot, on the off chance that Lucas even knew what Morse code was. Probably the only other person who paid attention to that section of military history during training. Taylor drummed his fingers on the tabletop, quietly tapping: O-K. The sounds of Wash's foot tapping stopped for a moment. She got his message. Taylor tuned back into what Lucas was muttering.
"Bet you're not too proud of her now," Lucas said. "How I was able to get the drop on her. Those reflexes getting dull in your advanced age?"
Wash's foot quietly tapped: F-U.
Taylor couldn't help but chuckle. The phrase "to stare daggers at" came to mind, taking an even more violent turn than usual.
"That's the problem with people like you," Lucas continued. "So set in your ways. So comfortable on your gilded throne. When something challenges your cozy little vision you can't cope with it. Not too comfortable looking over your shoulder all the time are you now, old man?"
Taylor tuned Lucas's rant out again, concentrating on the tapping noises Wash was making again. It was reaching way back to even have been able to recognize S-O-S earlier. Stringing words together was much more difficult. He drew the letters out on the plex in front of him as Wash repeated the message, hoping they made coherent sense.
"Will you stop that infernal tapping?" Lucas roared. A resounding slap ushered in silence, on both ends of the call.
Taylor looked at the screen, calling on deities he'd long since stopped petitioning that he'd understood what Wash had been trying to communicate. He thought he'd gotten the gist of the message before she was forced to stop.
"You couldn't even drum into her some respect for her betters," Lucas stated, his voice dripping with disdain. "What use is your vaunted military discipline if it doesn't even work?"
The potential of gathering any useful information seemed more remote with each word. Taylor quickly tapped out: C-U, for once finding shorthand appropriate, and said, "I guess you're right Lucas. I can't have a right-hand man or woman with such blatant obedience issues." He ripped the modified transmitter off, instantly severing the connection.
"What the hell was that?" Jim shouted before the last bit of noise had completely faded. "What were you thinking?"
"I don't know," said Reilly, shaking her head at the abrupt end, "But he must have heard some clue in that I didn't."
"Better than that," Taylor said, standing up, the wry smile on his face giving off an almost electric energy. "Wash told me where he's holding her."
"So that tapping thing was some sort of code?" Jim asked as they all moved out.
Taylor nodded, a spring in his step just shy of being an unmanly bounce. "Guzman, get the Ready Team. We're heading out."
The convoy pulled up just short of the cave where Wash had indicated she was being held. They had taken a couple of wrong turns on the way, Taylor realizing fairly quickly that his transcription had a few holes in it. The soldiers jumped out as quietly as possible, Taylor motioning for them to follow him and Guzman in.
"What took you so long?" Wash said, her ragged voice emanating from some corner they couldn't quite see.
Taylor blinked for a moment, eyes adjusting to the difference in light. As his eyes refocused he caught sight of Wash, leaning against a wall with a dark lump by her feet. Her arms were still bound, but her face was bloody, lip busted open. Strands of hair partially obscured one eye but even in the dim light he could tell she was working on quite a shiner already. His mouth opened and closed, each possible reply that came to mind deemed unsuitable for the situation. "Well it looks like you have the situation well under control Lieutenant," he finally said.
"Yes sir," she replied. "Had to depart a little from protocol but I'm sure he won't notice the difference." She poked at the dark lump on the ground with one of her feet.
For the first time since he entered the cave Taylor's thoughts turned to Lucas. That was Lucas? "Unconscious?" he asked, unable to keep a note of tentative fear out of his voice. Part of him knew that it might come down to a deadly confrontation with his son, and he had certainly seen enough warlords who had used their second chance (or third, or fourth) to further their own ends, but in some hidden corner of his mind he still held onto a sliver of hope that his son was redeemable. Some inherent characteristic of blood made familial love run deeper, the betrayals that much harder to bear.
Guzman subtly prodded Taylor's back, knocking him out of his thoughts.
"He should be alright," Wash said. "Out of it for a while I'd imagine. What to do with him, well that's not my decision sir."
Taylor walked over to her, taking his knife out and freeing her hands. Wash flexed her wrists and fingers, enjoying a full range of motion. She smirked. "He should have bound my feet as well."
Taylor shook his head in amusement. "That's my girl," he murmured. Evidently not as quietly as he had thought given Wash's sidelong glance. Well it had been a long day. He turned to Guzman with a sigh. "We certainly can't leave Lucas here so close to the colony. Guz, take a team and take him deep in the jungle the other direction. Make sure you keep eyes on him on at all times in case he wakes up."
"Yes sir," Guzman said, motioned two others in to take Lucas away.
"How's Reynolds doing?" Wash asked.
"Doc says he'll be fine," Taylor told her as she tested her weight on her right ankle. He watched as she stubbornly tried to limp across the room before going over to her and draping her right arm around his shoulders.
Wash managed barely more than a mumble of protest, a testament to her exhaustion, as she allowed him to help her out to the convoy. As they started back toward the colony she looked over at him. "Sir, don't think I didn't notice back there how you brought half the force out. Who's supposed to be keeping the colony safe? Boylan?"
"I've heard he delivers a mean right hook with a broken bottle," he joked.
Wash wasn't amused. "I'm serious sir. You didn't need to pull out all the stops. The colony's more important than I am."
"Wouldn't dream of leaving you behind," Taylor said sincerely. "But you do have a point. Until this situation with Lucas settles down a little more I don't want you OTG unless it's absolutely necessary."
"Sir, that's not what I meant," she protested.
Taylor just looked at her, keenly aware that though his soldiers were a rather tight-knit group (living 85 million years away from any other relatives had that effect), those in the back of the vehicle could hear every word of their discussion.
Wash got the message that now was not the time. "Yes sir. As long as you don't keep me on too tight a leash."
Someone in the back coughed and spluttered.
Wash rolled her eyes, not even needing to look back into the rhino to see who was the source of that reaction. "In your dreams Shannon. You should be so lucky."
"I'll have you know—" Jim started.
"Shannon, don't want to know," Wash warned.
Jim's brain caught up with his mouth as he cut himself off, apparently realizing that certain things were not fit for public discussion.
The rest of the ride back passed in a comfortable silence, helped a great deal by a silent Shannon. Taylor accompanied Wash to have her injuries treated, sure that his presence was as necessary for seeing to her full recovery as hers would be if he were in a similar situation. Elisabeth treated her wounds, leaving Taylor to keep an eye on her and ensure she remained still enough to fully heal.
"Sir," Wash said once they were free of potential eavesdroppers, "About earlier?"
Taylor let the slight twinge of regret he felt at not better controlling his emotions wash over him. "You know I'm not one for flowery declarations Wash, but we're both mature adults here and it would be doing neither of us a favor to pretend otherwise."
"Whazzat?" mumbled a sleepy Reynolds from the next bed over.
"Go back to sleep Reynolds," Wash ordered, her eyes still on Taylor.
"Yes ma'am." And he was silent.
"I think I understand sir," Wash continued. "I can't say I know what's going to happen even tomorrow but such a future would...not be unwelcome."
"To tomorrow then. Come whence it may, cost what it will."