Red

His head hurt. His body felt ... heavy and light at the same time. For a long time he sat and let time slither around him. His hand was empty, the weight of Judgement gone, his connection to the weapon gone. Voices. He tried to lift his head but the agony returned and he stayed slumped where he was. Footsteps leaving. He sagged further back against the window. The panes were broken behind him, the wooden supports creaked, gave and he pushed back harder until he was free, rain washing the blood from his face. Splash. Darkness enfolded him as he floated wherever the water would take him.

What had been an idyllic English glade near a small river was black with dried blood. A dozen bodies lay scattered like broken dolls, thoracic cavities empty of organs. The smell was enough to make the stomach churn. There was evidence that the hikers who found the site had been ill. Luckily,that was beyond the perimeters of the actual attack.

"Commander!" Ford's voice cut across the hubbub of voices from the investigation team. SHADO personnel, in hazard suits, were working to catalog and clear the site.

Ed Straker, ignoring the claustrophobic part of his mind that disliked the suit he wore, moved to join the younger operative. Ford knelt next to a body on the river bank. Like the others it was clad in romantically derivative clothing; a loose white shirt with flowing sleeves caught in at the wrist and then loosely ruffled; what looked like leather pants and short boots. At first he thought it was a woman, but the body was more angular and muscular than that.

Ford was pulling long, wet lengths of hair away from the face which proved to be lean, fine boned but strong. A short beard covered the chin. He heard a faint gasp from the Ford as he uncovered the devastation of the victim's right eye socket. From the faint stippling of black on the bridge of the nose, the shot that removed the eye was from dead on. Yet the man still breathed. Trying not to move the head, Ford's fingers worked around to the back where he discovered bone slivers and ripped skin, but not directly opposite the entry wound.

Noting the frown, Straker leaned down for a closer look. While there were masses of hair in the way, the exit wound was almost directly behind the victim's left ear. "How ...?"

Ford looked up then. "Ricochet?" It was unusual, but if the trajectory was oblique instead of straight, the bullet might have hit the inside of the skull and headed back the way it came, possibly rimming the skull instead of ripping through brain matter. "It's a fluke," he gave his opinion, nodding his thanks to another operative who dropped a first aid kit next to him before continuing on to clean up duties. "I don't know if he'll survive transport," he continued. "I'll get the wounds padded and call in our medical team."

"Good." Straker looked around at the rest of the once restful glen. "If we can pull him through, I want to talk to him." The Commander moved off leaving Ford to stabilize the wounds as well as he could. Something was out of place here, the survivor seemed unassociated with the rest of the group. There was a firm reality to his dress that did not fit with the other costuming.

The surgeons at Mayland, along with the radiographers, confirmed Ford's conclusion that the bullet had essentially entered through the eyesocket, destroying the eye and lid in the process, crashed into the skull and followed the curve until it smashed out just behind the man's left ear. Other medical personnel cataloged a variety of scars, that he was a natural red head, the rest of his body hair supporting the vivid coloring of his lengthy head hair; and that other than the head wound, he was in good health.

Head trauma of the caliber the victim experienced being what it was, no one was offering a time table on when Red, as they'd most un-originally christened the man, would awaken. Several days passed during which Straker was kept updated. Fingerprints were negative, no other organization had ever run his prints or collected them; his DNA scan was equally unknown. There were no wanted posters or missing person reports fitting his description and, as Straker had suspected, he was not a part of the cosplay group the aliens slaughtered.

Under analysis of the wound, the caliber of the bullet used was not one common to the aliens. Aside from the mystery of identity, there was another issue: Most of the medical monitors started to malfunction after several hours in proximity to Red. Removed from his room, they were accurate again. The medical tech were relieved when he woke up and no longer needed constant mechanical monitoring.

His becoming conscious did not solve any of the issues that needed to be resolved. While he was awake, alert and cautiously friendly, he looked continuously puzzled by their words. Apparently, English was neither his first language, nor one he had acquired. Nothing in the Anglo-European languages elicited more than confusion either. It was left to Bev Devereau's bright "Konichiwa!" to unravel some of the communication problem.

"Konichiwa," he answered her, not as spritely, but definitely with recognition as he followed his greeting with a question. Unfortunately, Bev's knowledge of Japanese was not up to the task.

"Oh, hell. Uhm ... Here." She set the tray with breakfast on the bed table and moved it into position for him. "I'll be right back!"

He watched as she darted out of the room to return as he finished his meal with a petite oriental girl who was still toweling her short black hair dry and complaining. "Why are you dragging me here, baca!" she demanded of Bev as she skidded to a stop and met the pale blue eye of the gentleman on the bed.

"Kon'nichiwa!" she greeted him with an instinctive bow.

"Yoi... Asa? "

Hinakai Moritsu blinked. The accent was unfamiliar, but he was definitely speaking Japanese. "Good morning." She looked flustered as she realized she was hardly suitably dressed for such an encounter. She caught a sly smile and look of approval, causing her color to heighten slightly. "Watashi wa Moritsu Hinakaidesu," she introduced herself in the traditional manner, patronymic first. "You were wounded. You are in Mayland Hospital. The prognosis for recovery is excellent, except, I believe, for your right eye."

He nodded his understanding. "What country?"

"England. It seems you are far from home."

He smiled and nodded. "So it would seem." His fingertips traced the bandaging and then down. Was something missing? "I am ... " His voice stopped as he frowned. He was someone, someone important, he thought. Yet nothing came. He met her gaze calmly. "I do not recall my name," he stated simply.

Hinakai translated. She and Bev exchanged looks. Oh, boy.

Over the next two days, Hinakai and Red worked on what he remembered, which wasn't much unfortunately. He was missing a hand gun, of that he was certain. The clothing he'd worn looked normal to him, yet there was a part of his attire that was also absent. As the heavy bandaging came off to be replaced with lighter, Hinakai caught him rubbing the cheek below with a look as though he expected to touch something other than skin, but what it was, neither of them knew.

Inquiries in Japan and Okinawa came up empty.

"So what you're telling me is that a striking, tall, ridiculously red haired man who speaks Japanese as his primary language, has appeared out of nowhere?" Straker met Jackson's dark gaze squarely.

"Unfortunately, yes, Commander. Red, for want of a better name at the moment, was not apart of the cosplay group and was not damaged by the aliens. There is nothing to indicate he has any connection with the aliens at all, but there are no connections to anything else, either." Jackson's soft voice was troubled.

"You're concerned?"

Jackson allowed himself a small sigh at that. "I am ... possibly more aware of the difficulties for displaced persons than most in SHADO, Commander. We cannot just ... turn him loose. He is not threat to us, as far as we have ascertained; but he is ... "

"Not currently competent to return to his society, whichever one it might be," Straker agreed. "Nor would it be correct to simply bury him," the SHADO commander enumerated the difficulties. He caught Jackson's look and allowed himself a smile. "Hardly what I was contemplating, anyway. But he does present something of a long term liability."

Jackson nodded his understanding. "Once the bandages are off, we will start with English. It will certainly make his life simpler if he learns to communicate with us."

"Placing him in Japan could be ... difficult." A bemused smile lit the Commander's face as he considered the injured man in Tokyo. "He has time. Let him finish healing before you start on his crash course in English, find out what he can do, find him a place." With a nod, Straker dismissed Jackson and turned his attention to other pressing matters.

Bev and Hinakai were assigned to Red, relieving them of other duties. While Bev was a little surprised by the assignment, Hinakai took it in stride. "After all, we're the only one's he's talking to," she pointed out.

"He's talking to you, not me."

"You're the nurse," Hinakai responded with a broad grin and a laugh.

Bev tossed a pillow at her.

...

Red stared at himself in the mirror over the lavatory. The lines of his face were familiar, yet not. He got flashes of other attire, of a broad brimmed hat, of a big coat with gold and braid and piping; yet nothing stuck. The bandaging was now down to a pad on the back of his head where they had shaved away his hair and short thick tufts had be be kept under control to make sure the surgery was healing correctly, and a thick pad over his missing eye. Yet the monocular vision seemed normal to him, natural, not something he had to accommodate to as he healed.

Flashes of memory reflected in the shimmering surface before him. A child with gray hair, a scarred face and a ... monocle? A laughing gray skinned man and a clown followed swiftly. He was filled with sorrow, yet the child also knew joy. His head whirled. The concussion of a gunshot hammered at him and he fell to the floor, a crazy quilt of images overwhelming him. He cried out and felt energy flow through him. A woman in a long gown knelt next to him, cool fingers in long black gloves hovered over his face. The chill felt good against the heat of his skin. He inhaled her scent, flowers and death, so familiar. So very familiar. Grande Maria.

Bev looked in on him and was surprised to find him asleep, trails of his brilliant hair fanned out across the pillow, almost as though someone had lovingly brushed it while he slept. She closed the door and left him to the quiet.

It was Bev who approached Jackson with the first request Red made. "He'd like to attend Mass, sir."

Jackson looked at her curiously, then nodded. There could be much to be learned from allowing the man to attend a church service, especially when he requested a Mass, a Roman Catholic function, rather than Sunday services. There was a Catholic chapel nearby. They could attend there unobtrusively. Perhaps Red should wear a hat. And he would clear it with the Commander, of course.

"He wants to what?" Of the many things he had thought their guest might request, attending church services was not one that had come to mind.

"Attend Mass. This would make him Roman Catholic, I believe. It indicates that some of his memories are returning. Religious affiliations are generally very deep, formed when we are children. Many of us drop them later, but those of the Roman faith are frequently pulled back to it in times of stress or trauma. Attendance might bring back more of his lost self, or it may simply be of comfort to go through the familiar movements of the Mass," Jackson explained.

Straker contained the snort of his initial reaction. He was aware of how strong the pull of the Church could be, most of his friends growing up were Catholic. He'd been the odd man out, his father having left Catholicism much like Henry the 8th in England. Although Henry's first wife's only sin was not bearing a boy child. Thalia Orona y Costa Straker had not only lied about who she was and much of her past, but committed adultery within a month of the Wedding Mass. Why the Church would not grant a divorce was something Ed had never understood. Instead, Straker's father left the Church, fought a hard contested divorce proceeding and gaining his freedom, had been a hardened mysogenist for several years afterward until Ed's mother fell into his arms, literally.

Ed was aware that the same Church that was so incomprehensibly harsh toward his father was a source of comfort and order to the lives of others. "I want security as tight as possible, just in case." He no longer worried that Red was an alien operative, but the sudden recovery of a lifetime of memories in an unfamiliar place, including whatever gave him the scars he bore could be as traumatic as the damage that left him with amnesia.

The service was lengthy, and Red was apparently well familiar with the forms, following them as the mass proceeded. He did not take the Eucharist, a small smile playing around his lips as he watched others do so. Red made it through easily and came to his feet as the service ended, even trading handshakes with the priest at the door.

As they were walking away, Jackson heard a man's voice pleading with the priest as a man and a woman stood there. The words were Spanish, not one of his stronger tongues, but the desperation caught his attention. The word "exorsista" caught Red's. He looked around to the two as the priest again explained that they did not need an exorcist, that the child was mentally ill, not possessed. Anger suffused the father's face and he shouted that he knew the difference. His child was not ill, she was possessed by a demon!

Red was standing next to the man, towering over him, while nodding to the priest. He caught the man's shoulders and gazed deeply into the dark brown eyes of the frightened back country Spaniard. Images filtered through his mind and he shook his head. Hinakai stepped forward.

"What?"

"The child is not possessed. She has a deficiency they have not diagnosed. Something in their food at home that is missing here ... " He sagged against her as he lost all energy suddenly.

Jackson stepped up to apologize and support the exhausted man as Hinakai swiftly translated for the priest and the worried family. She could not explain how her companion knew this, but she was certain he was right. She was absolutely certain, although she was bewildered at her own acceptance. The man looked angry again, but his wife put a hand on his arm, muttering something Hinakai could not hear. The man looked to his wife, uncertain, but she nodded at him, relief in her expression. Apparently she understood what Red was trying to tell them.

He turned back and nodded. "Gracias. Gracias por lo mucho." He then asked the priest for forgiveness for pressing him before he escorted his wife away.

"Wow. So, what was that all about?" she asked Red as she turned back. "Oh, shit!" she added inelegantly in English as she slid under his other arm. Red was unconscious.

Straker regarded his security head, lead psychiatric doctor oddly. "They were looking for an exorcist?"

"Yes. They were quite sincere in their overture to the priest," Jackson confirmed. "He had turned them away before, counseling psychological care for the child."

"And our guest?"

"Recommended a nutrient – a trace that is found in the dirt of their home, but not in what they purchase here."

"He does not speak Spanish." Straker re-confirmed.

Jackson nodded. "No. He does not. Neither the priest nor the couple speak Japanese, and the couple are very weak in English," Jackson confirmed. "I am at a loss to explain what happened."

The currently cold blue eyes flicked to Jackson's face. "In other words, there is no evidence of a set up. You've thoroughly examined priest, family and community; and our easiest source of information ..."

"Just woke up, sir," Lt. Devereau answered from the doorway.

"Ah, excellent. If you will excuse me, Commander?"

A curt nod dismissed both of them. Straker leaned back in his chair, trying to make sense of their guest. Had the man died of his wounds, life would be so much simpler. He hadn't and now he was presenting them with problems which, if not on a par with the aliens, were very distracting.

The door to his office slid open to admit the frequently diffident Lt. Ford and a sheaf of papers. The young man nodded to Straker. "Sir. I may have found something, although it is a bit .. well ... odd, sir."

Straker greeted that comment with a raised eyebrow as Ford set the papers on the desk and handed them over one by one. The first was an enlargement of a grainy, turn of the century looking newsprint photo of two rows of men; four in front, four in the back; one with a distinctive profile taking a puff on a cigarette or thin cigar. The next was an enlargement of that profile. Even in black and white, Straker could recognize their guest. He frowned at the photo.

"What's this?" he asked, tapping the pale area of Red's face.

Ford shrugged his shoulders. "It looks like some sort of half mask covering most of the right side of his face. They're identified as General's of the Black Order, some sort of secret society or ... erm ...order, sir. I believe the one we're looking at is Marion Cross."

"General Marion Cross. So, what is or was the Black Order."

"I'm having a difficult time finding that out, sir. While the Vatican digitized a great deal of its historical data, every other mention of the Black Order has been ... excised. Sir." Ford looked annoyed.

Straker sifted through the other papers, most of them giving skeletal information that amounted to the order existing and then probably not existing. The most striking item was the date on the photograph. "1889?"

"Yes, sir. Perhaps there is an alien connection of some sort? He was at site and they have been known to do some time tampering, although, admittedly, not on this scale; that we know of."

Straker nodded. "Keep digging. We'll give our guest time to recover from today and see whether the name rings a bell."

"Yes, sir."

Red eyed Dr. Jackson warily, in spite of Hinakai's reassurances. "Just what does he want?"

"To ask questions about what happened this morning."

"I overstressed myself," he told her, his voice bland.

That got a raised eyebrow from the young lady. "You passed out. You didn't get a headache, you didn't get ill, sweaty, clammy, nauseous or light headed; you passed out and stayed out for hours," she practically scolded him.

His good eye widened and he blinked at her, although a smile curved his mouth in a most distracting manner. He knew the tone of voice and the potential emotion behind it. "You were worried?"

Hinakai wanted to slap that mild deceptive manner right out of him. It was her cousin the care-for-nobody all over again. Both Red and Jackson caught her sober look. Jackson knew the story, Red only recognized he'd hit a nerve. He reached outand cupped her cheek with his hand, concern in his manner.

Hinakai swallowed and gently moved his hand away. "Sorry. I – you remind me of someone, that's all. Please? Dr. Jackson thinks he might discover who you are with more insight into how you helped that couple this morning."

Red's color rose, but he nodded. His answers were vague, difficult to pin down. He understood that many illnesses could simulate possession. He also knew that food in one place was never exactly like the same thing grown or raised in another area.

Had he ever seen something similar?

He closed his eyes, a frown furrowing his forehead. " I believe so." He shook his head. "No details, but there was a child … she … had been well at home, yet was always ill, in discomfort when … somewhere else … " his voice drifed off as his gaze lost focus.

"Red?" Hinikai prompted quietly.

He shook his head again. "I … it's gone." His shoulders sagged.

Jackson nodded his understanding. That the patient was this coherent so soon after the trauma he sustained was in itself amazing. "This will help. You need to continue to rest. A head wound is always dangerous," he reminded them.

Red nodded his understanding and lay back against the pillows as the doctor left. He looked to the girl with him, no, small in stature she might be, but she was a woman in age. He smiled at her, wishing he knew more than her name and kindness. After a while, he drifted off again into dreams that made no sense.

Jackson mulled over his information for a while. The most intriguing item to him was that the man recognized and believed in demonic possession. Not once had Red indicated that the condition did not exist, but only that other conditions might mimic the real thing. That was a curious attitude in the modern age. He called Ford.

"Doctor?" Ford answered the call while mulling over how to reclaim deleted files from someone else's computer. He listened for a moment and then nodded. "Already working on it. I'll bring what I find as soon as I have anything. Anything else?" The answer was surprising, but he added it to his short list of terms to relate to his search on the Black Order before returning the receiver to its cradle. "Possession. Demonic possession and exorcist. Good lord, what are we looking for?"

Ford returned to his task. Black Order + exorcist – the search ran quickly until a security tell tail lit at the bottom of the screen and he paused the search. Someone else was interested in people looking for this coupling of terms. Making a note of the intrusion, he moved to the next terminal and instituted a back search to see who was looking at his inquiry. With a trio of keystrokes, he side tracked the tail. A moment later it returned.

Frowning, Ford continued his search, noted it was actually the Vatican that was monitoring one of his search terms and quickly shunted the tail to a server for the studios. Megan Gill noted the abrupt activity on one of the computers just as the phone rang.

"Gill. Oh, hi, Keith. … Yes, I noticed it. … What? OK. I'll keep an eye on it. … If I get haled off by the Inquisition, you are so in trouble, Mister!" But she was laughing, so Keith didn't take the threat seriously, although he did remind her that security could probably take care of the Spanish Inquisition. She snerked at that and rang off. "What are we investigating?"

Two more notices of monitoring activity popped up to be shunted up to Meg's server. That was a lot of interested in a supposedly defunct order.

An hour later, Ford returned to Straker's office with a thin file. "Not sure I have the entire answer, sir; but the amont of intrest shown in a "defunct order" of the Catholic chu8rch is a little alarming." He pulled out his list of people who followed Meg's server search.

Straker perused the list looking a bit amazed by the end. "What is this?" he asked, looking up at Ford and then gesturing for the man to sit down.

"Obvious answer, a list of every religious power on the planet, sir. Well, almost. I don't think the Shinto of Japan or the Zen and Taoist practitioners have any interest, but it certainly seems that most of the organized religions of the world have some sort of monitor up for searches on the Order and on exorcists. I can understand the Jesuits and maybe the Assisians … " he frowned at the last, was that even a word? "Franciscans," he corrected himself. "But the Thule Society? The American Satanic Church? Sixteen separate alerts from Ulan Bator to New Orleans … A practitioner of Voodun … and all of them have some interest in an organization we can't even prove exists." Ford looked both concerned and confused by the latter.

Straker nodded. "A great deal of interest in an Order that doesn't exist," he agreed. "Unless it does or did and they have reason to worry about it being discovered or coming into existence again."

"Does … Like us, sir?"

The pale haired man nodded his agreement again. "Although it doesn't explain how we have a man here who is also in a century old photograph."

Ford handed over the rest of the file. "I'm not certain I understand most of what I found. I think it comes down to someone opened a door? Rift? Gateway? To another place. An alternate dimension or world." He shook his head and grinned. "You'd think I would take it in stride after working here and the show I hosted, but this … is .."

"Frightening?" Straker supplied.

"Yes, sir. Aliens are bad enough. If they found allies … "

A slight shake of the head negated the thought. "There's no indication that there is such an alliance, or that there ever way. No, this was a different war on a different front." The cool blue gaze met Ford's. "As we see occasionally, there are a lot of unknown wars being fought on this world. What attracts them, I don't know. But we seem to be winning most of them."

"Supernatural threats, sir?"

"Someone once said that technology we don't understand equals magic. Until I have proof otherwise, I am content to look at this information that way."

Ford smiled again. Trust the Commander to make it understandable and keep things from becoming too terrifying. "Still, a hundred years ..."

"The aliens stole at least 40 from Catherine Fraser," Straker reminded the younger man.

"That would mean the aliens were involved in the rift and it really doesn't make much sense that way. Besides, why wait until now to drop him on us?"

Straker smiled at that. "No, it doesn't. I don't think we have the entire picture yet."

"Probably not, sir. May I share this with Dr. Jackson? He asked me to look up a couple of things and that's when the alerts started going off."

Straker nodded his consent. He wondered what the doctor would make of the information. He'd know soon enough.

Doug Jackson looked over the file Ford dropped off with him, extrapolated an item or two from his childhood and came to a conclusion he really did not want to have. He recalled the odd rumor in his home village of demons in human form who became weapons and were vanquished b y mysterious black clad men with frightening weapons of teir own. No remais were brought forward and the heroes, if such they were, vanished entirely.

Of the men in the photograph, two resembled the descriptions he remembered. Froi Tiedoll and Kevin Yeegar; the curly hair of the one and the waist length white of the other being of great note among his conservative backwater village. The insouciant manner of the man in the back row bore a distinctive resemblance to their mystery man in the hospital.

"So, the Black Order did exist," he murmured as he picked up the phone and placed a call outside SHADO.

Red's dreams were unquiet. The gray haired child grew into a young man, taming his Innocence and becoming something he never expected, considering what he knew. Somewhere the child battled on and he needed to find ... the ever altering landscape foiled him again and again. The huge gun that should have answered his call never came. He was empty, failed.

He sat alone in a book filled room, drinking. There was something coming, something hungry for the boy and what he held. A knock a the door, so polite, so - innocent.

"Walker!" Red screamed, throwing himself from the bed to the nearest corner, his eye open but unfocused on the room around him. His hands moved, summoning arcane energies. Maria materialized behind him, her voice at the ready.

Bev hit the door to her patient's room and bounced. She was getting to her feet when Hinakai arrived. The oriental woman looked at the door and then at Bev. "Is that door really glowing?"she asked as they faced it curiously.

"Call Jackson. The door's ... blocked. I'll get security ... Shit! Now what?" The lights wen down. Hinakai drew Bev's attention to the door which shone with an electric blue aura.

"What the ... " Bev dialed Jackson's cell phone. "Doctor, we have a situation. Red's locked in his room, the lights are down, the emergency lighting is off ... " she paused as she looked down the corridor. "OK the lights are off in this hallway. Looks like the rest of the building is fine. There's also a blue glow to the door, sir." She listened for a moment and nodded. "Yes, sir. We'll wait for you here. No security to be called. Uh, sir, will you notify Commander Straker?" After a momentary pause, Jackson agreed to do so.

Bev closed her phone with a thoughtful look. Hinakai regarded her curiously. "No security to be called. We hold the fort until he gets here."

"Oh, nice. I mean, I'm glad he has confidence in us, but frankly, I think a little back up would be a good idea."

Bev snorted a laugh. "Or we 're just expendable," she added to her friend's plaint. She stepped closer to the door and held out a hand, palm outward, until she could feel the prickle of electricity dancing over her skin.

"Now that's a scary look," Hinakai told her with laughter in her voice.

"What?"

Hinakai handed her friend a small lighted mirror. Bev's bangs were fanned out around her face like a halo. The effect went away as she moved back. Both women jumped as Red yelled again, incomprehensible through the wall and door. Worried for his safety,they approached the door again. Hinakai reached for the handle.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," a lazy female voice startled them from behind. A strip of paper with oriental characters tracing down it flew between them to become plastered to the smooth surface. The blue faded. Tall, black clad, white skinned and practically anorexic, a woman they'd never seen before strode past them to slam into the room.

"Marion Cross, General of the Black Order, stand down." the order was sharp, not loud.

Bev was amazed at what she saw. Red was in a martial looking crouch, flickers of electricity or lightning playing around his fingertips while a graceful woman in an odd head covering mask stood behind him, one black gloved hand curved around the side of his head.

The lightning faded as did the woman. Red sat with a thud. He looked ... lost. The woman went to him, kneeling as she caught his face in her hands. Hinakai stepped forward as she saw fear in his face. A hand on her arm stopped her. Dr. Jackson stood beside her. He shook his head silently, intent on the tableau before him.

"You." Red's voice was harsh, but low pitched.

The woman smiled. "Me. You are ... a long way from all you knew."

A shudder shook him. He swallowed hard. All he was and had been rocketed through his mind, right through what should have been his death."

"You see the problem?" she asked dryly.

"I ... " He scowled. He should be dead. "You're here to resolve the matter?" he wanted to face this with his usual bravado. Yet he could see the two women who cared for him, both looking upset.

"I'm here to determine if the matter needs to be resolved, General," she answered softly. "You cannot keep Maria if you stay, but all else that you are and know may remain."

"Walker?"

"Isnolonger your concern. Between you and his adoptive father, he is far more than anyone expected. Because he cares, no one can say who he will become. You will not see him again until all is settled."

Red nodded, a tear trickling down his face. "I can be useful?"

She threw back her head with laughter, a deep satisfying sound. "Oh, yes. Useful, annoying, difficult and always charming. I leave you here, Marion Cross. Be well." She walked out of the room with a not to Jackson as she passed the trio of SHADO operatives and vanished down the hallway.

Bev and Hinakai helped Red to his feet.

"Red ..." Bev started.

"Cross. Marion Cross," he corrected her gently, the knowledge of who he was strengthening him. He looked to Jackson, both curious and wary. The slender man smiled at him and nodded before following the unnamed woman from the room.

"You speak English?" Hinakai asked him.

"Yes, now," he answered with a slow nod. He smiled at the two women as they got him back into bed and settled. It was a warm, knowing smile. "Now I can appropriately thank you," he told Bev and included Hinakai in the look he gave the taller woman.

Oh, my.

Epilogue:

Once Red, now Marion Cross, had his memories restored, his recovery was swift. He adapted to an eye patch that was nothing if not swashbuckling. His skills were esoteric and modern digital equipment tended to behave very peculiarly around him. He was a consummate marksman with any gun he was handed. His knowledge of strategy and tactics in the field were excellent. He understood military protocols and had a fine disregard for most of them that was certain to annoy.

Straker looked over the file Dr. Jackson had compiled with a recommendation that they retain Cross's services. Straker raised an eyebrow over several of the noted capabilities. "Magic, Dr?"

"Technology we do not understand is frequently mistaken for magic, sir," was the non-commital response.

"And your explanation for what Lieutenants Devareau and Moritsu saw?" The blue eyes were alight with curiosity.

"Again, General Cross of the Black Order had access to experimental technology we do not understand. The woman could have been a holograph, a projection across ... dimensions ... I have yet to formulate a complete analysis, although I do not believe it is something that will happen again. That access has been ... closed," he chose his final word carefully. "It is my understanding that the gate he passed through is again guarded against such crossings. On the whole, I believe Cross will be best suited to a field position ... perhaps more closely related to those news persons regarded as "stringers"." Jackson regarded his superior directly.

Straker nodded. For some time there had been an idea tossed around that might help them catch alien intrusions, or at least, document them, outside the northern European hemisphere. Cross was used to being on his own for the most part, a roaming troubleshooter rather than under the immediate control of his superiors. Within certain parameters, Cross could be very useful to SHADO.

"Do we allow him to recruit?"

Jackson considered this. "We allow him to make recommendations, sir. Only headquarters should make the final decision on recruitment."

That got another nod. Considering what a rocky start Jackson had with the organization, it was good to know that their thinking was aligned on so many levels.

"Get him papers and I'll get him moving." Straker dismissed Jackson and turned to the reports that still piled up on his desk.

fin