Disclaimer: I do not own anything in this story nor do I make any money off of it. The only thing I may lay claim to are the little mistakes that are bound to pop up.

Copyright © Jamieson, 2002. Please do not archive without expressed permission from the author.

~~~~~~~~~

VS-601 DEPARTURE

The all-encompassing vastness of space is normally noticeable to anyone who's ever looked through a telescope. To astronauts who've spent a considerable amount of time suspended there, it can be an incredible feeling. And for one Renee Palmer, who currently watched as she travelled through that space, much further than any human astronaut, the feeling was overwhelming.

Sure, Renee had known just how large an area the current research determined space to be. . .research that projected it covered one times ten to the negative "whatever" percentage of space actually travelled by humans - the "whatever" being a very, VERY large number. But to experience this vastness from the command chair of the Taelon Mothership as is sped through the Inter-Dimensional wormhole made the facts real - space was huge! When she thought about the efficiency of ID travel, that on Earth you could go from New York to Bangkok in less than ten seconds, plus the fact that it had taken them a full twelve days spent no where but ID space and only now were they approaching the edge of the galaxy, Renee was forced to realize just how huge "huge" was.

She stretched as she sat in the surprisingly comfortable command chair, the swirling light patterns of the ID wormhole, while at first a welcome distraction were, after twelve days of nothing else, now annoyingly monotonous. Her gaze moved to a side console and she sighed, bored out of her mind. "Two more minutes," she sighed.

"Gee, you sound excited."

Renee spun around in the chair, startled. Glaring at Liam as he walked towards her, she answered, annoyed, "Don't do that."

Suppressing a grin, Liam offered Renee a cup of coffee as he sat down on the floor facing her command chair. "If I knew you'd enjoy watch duty so much, I would have offered you my shift so I could get another two hours of sleep."

She shook her head. "Do not even *think* about it."

Liam's mouth cracked slightly. "Why are you here, anyway? I thought Yulyn was after Raj'el."

"He was. But he's seemed kind of tired lately, so I thought I'd let him rest."

"Yeah, I've noticed." Liam's expression turned semi-serious. "You really like him, don't you?"

She smiled. "I do, he's a great kid. He may not be a child but he still needs to be looked out for. I mean, he's only what? Thirteen, *maybe* fourteen?"

"Yeah, around there."

"I don't know, I guess he's just grown on me. I know I haven't known him that long, but I'm starting to feel like a surrogate aunt or sister or. . . ."

"Or a mother?" Liam finished, staring intently.

Renee looked down, hesitating, before returning his gaze. "Yeah, I think I do. It's strange."

"How so?"

Renee shook her head, dismissing the question, and took a sip from her cup. "Mmm, that's good. There can't be much left of this."

Liam rolled his eyes, accepting her change of subject. "There isn't. Like most of the supplies in the commissary, a lot of it isn't consumable."

She glanced at her cup. "And the coffee?"

"I'm afraid that's a luxury. After this," he tapped his cup, "there's enough for about two or three pots. And the chances of us finding more. . . ." He grinned at her defeated sigh.

"How long before we have to find more supplies?"

"Uh, well, now that we've got the cold storage compartments back up. . .a few weeks. *Maybe* a month if we ration it well. Raj'el doesn't need to eat and Yulyn doesn't need as much sustenance as we do--"

"And," Renee interrupted, staring back out the virtual glass shield of the bridge, "we'll hopefully find a new homeworld for the Atavus soon, so Yulyn won't really be part of the equation anymore. Then we'll just have to divide the rations between ourselves."

Liam studied her as she looked out on space. "Don't you think he wants to come with us?"

Her gaze remained trained on the dancing ID distortions. "Doesn't matter, he should stay with the other Atavus."

"Why's that?"

"They're his brethren, it's where he belongs."

Liam stood up and walked over to Renee, stopping behind her chair. "Do you really believe that?" No answer. "Maybe you should ask Yulyn what he wants, instead of assuming."

Renee spun the chair slightly so she could face him, about to tell him off. However, staring into his eyes, she realized he was only trying to be her friend, and her anger dissipated. "I promised him I'd get him home," she stated, turning back.

Liam softened his voice, both afraid she'd think his words hostile and to show his friend his support. "Plans change. . .people change. Just look at you." Renee moved her head slightly as if to turn towards him, but stopped short, waiting for his next words.

"Twelve days, five hours, and. . ." he checked his watch, ". . .about twenty-five minutes ago, you had no intention of leaving Earth. . .in fact, you refused adamantly." Renee hid a small grin, reminded of the memory. "However," he continued, "Twelve days, five hours, and maybe. . .seventeen?. . .minutes ago, you were standing on this very bridge taking your last look at Earth." Despite the fact she wasn't facing him, Liam knew his friend well enough to know she was about to protest that last statement; he went on before she could. "Now I know you plan on coming back someday, so do I, but we don't know when that will be. . .could be a year from now, or it could be ten years from now. And as far as I know, you've been alright with that fact."

Renee nodded slightly and sighed. "I know where you're going with this."

"Do you?"

"Yes. You're gonna tell me Yulyn changed his mind so he could what? Go on a quest to discover the universe with me?" Her tone held a slight hint of sarcasm.

"Maybe, maybe not," Liam answered. "But I'll say it again. Maybe you should *ask* him before assuming he wants to stay with the others."

Renee's "maybe" was almost inaudible. Standing up and turning around, she said, "I need to get some sleep before morning."

As she started past him, Liam caught her shoulder. "Think about it." Hesitating slightly, she gave him a curt nod and continued walking off the bridge.

~~~

As Renee was about to enter the Volunteer quarters she was currently using, she stopped and continued walking until she came to the next entrance, Yulyn's chosen quarters. He hadn't bothered to activate the opaque "door" so she was able to see into them and caught a glimpse of Yulyn asleep in the bed. He looked even younger when he was asleep; she remembered waking up in the middle of the night when they were on Easter Island when he was sleeping. She'd watched him for a few minutes before drifting back off, but in that time she had witnessed just how young and vulnerable he was. And here she was again, seeing the same thing; and just like before, she took a few minutes to study him.

"I keep my promises," she told the sleeping form before heading to her own bed.

~~~

As he walked past her quarters looking over the info displayed on a modified global, Liam could hear Renee cursing. Stepping just inside the door, he asked, "Problem?"

Trying to hide her surprise, she faced him. "Didn't I tell you not to do that?" Liam simply gestured with the global at the cabinet she was crouched in front of. A few articles of clothing were tossed on either side of her. She looked around and sighed. "How did you manage to convince me to leave without a trip back to my apartment?" He just shrugged. More to herself than him, she muttered, "I should've gone back for clothes. Idiot."

"What you have on is fine," he stated. She was wearing a black long- sleeved shirt and black pants - standard issue for volunteers. She'd rummaged through the volunteer crew quarters for anything left behind and hadn't found much besides the uniforms. Liam, on the other hand, had had his own, albeit rarely used, quarters in which he'd stored some clothes and other belongings, such as a few books, some meditation candles - little stuff. However, he'd been comfortable while she suffered in someone else's clothes.

"No, it's not," Renee replied, standing up and gesturing towards the pants. "The pants are too long, too big, and extremely uncomfortable." Watching as he bit back a grin, she grabbed up a shirt from the top of the cabinet and flung it at him. "Now I know why the volunteers were so temperamental."

Liam shook his head and walked out of the room. "I'll meet you in the commissary," he called back.

Renee looked into the mirror above the cabinet and sighed. "Screw it," she muttered, "It's not gonna get any better." Looking for the belt she'd found and threaded it through the loops of her pants, then rolled up the bottom cuffs so she wouldn't trip over them. She took another look in the mirror. The shirt was so big on her that if she held her arms out to her sides, the material expanded to almost double her width. She shook her head and went to catch up with Liam.

~~~

He was almost at the entrance to the commissary when Renee called out. "So, what's on the menu today?"

Liam turned and watched as she jogged up, and before he could help himself, he let out the slightest of chuckles. Seeing her stand up was one thing, but to see her try to move in those tents that were her clothes was too much.

Seeing his expression had her stop short. Crossing her arms, she asked, "Care to share?"

Biting down on his lower lip Liam looked away. "Not really." Before she could answer he ducked into the commissary. Renee decided to let it go and followed; he was headed for the kitchen area. "And to answer your first question, we have bread, water, and some apples."

They grabbed up the water bottles and the bowls that held their meagre selection and sat down at a nearby table, eating in companionable silence for a few minutes. Finally, Liam put down the apple he'd been munching on and rested his arms on the table. "Okay, that's the fourth time you've looked at your watch in the last five minutes. What's up?"

Renee's wandering eyes found his. "What? Oh, nothing, it's just. . .shouldn't Yulyn be here by now? He's always up way before this."

He grinned. "A little maternal concern?"

"Maybe," she sighed.

"He was still sleeping when I passed by."

"He's been acting strange lately. . .I thought Atavus didn't need as much sleep as we do."

Liam, swallowing his water, shook his head. "They don't."

"So why does he seem so tired lately?"

"Why don't you ask him yourself?" Liam replied, nodding behind her.

Turning around she saw Yulyn enter the commissary and head for their table. "Morning," she stated. His only reply was a grunt as he slumped down into the chair beside her; he looked half-asleep. "You okay?"

"Fine," came his soft reply.

Renee grabbed an apple out of the bowl and offered it to him. He gave his head a slight shake and waved it away. "Eat," she ordered, slightly irritated. "It'll help you get back some of your energy." He relented and took the proffered fruit, eating in slow motion. Renee shot Liam a questioning glance, which he answered with a shrug. . .neither knew what had been up with the kid lately.

"So Yulyn," Liam began, breaking the silence, "Since Renee's gonna be working with Raj'el on the bridge this morning, you think you can help me get the ships' defences back up? They've probably been put off long enough. . .never know what we'll encounter out there."

Over the last twelve days the four new crewmembers had been working on getting the ships systems back up and running. The Mothership herself had been able to repair most of the physical damage to the ship once re- activated, but the internal systems themselves had to be repaired manually. Since they'd been in ID space the defence and weapons systems hadn't been a priority - there were many other necessary problems more pressing - but now that most of the ship was back up and running they could look at getting everything else back online.

"Of course," Yulyn replied, less enthusiastically than he'd intended.

"Good," Liam replied, finishing his breakfast. "I need to go over those scans with Raj'el," he said as he stood up. "I'll meet you guys on the bridge."

"We should be there in a few minutes," said Renee as Liam headed out the door. Liam nodded slightly and gave a small wave, indicating he'd heard, and left.

Renee glanced at Yulyn's attire; he'd traded in his Atavan body-armoured suit for what he'd called more comfortable clothes. The clothes resembled hers, but they were more fitting to his smaller frame. . .she'd have to ask him whose quarters he'd plundered to find them. As her eyes were drawn to his face, she noticed the paleness of his skin - even more so than normal for the Atavus. "You sure you're okay?"

Yulyn mustered up a smile and turned towards her. "Yes. I'm fine," he replied, trying to alleviate Renee's concern.

Renee was skeptical but relented. "Okay. . . ." They continued eating in silence.

~~~

"This one looks habitable."

"Unfortunately that planet does not have a compatible climate."

Liam sighed and leaned against the console he and Raj'el were looking over, rubbing the bridge of his nose in frustration. The large, flat console held star charts recovered from the Taelon database of the next few solar systems they would be passing through. Every time Liam made a suggestion of where they could send the Atavus currently residing in the stasis chamber, Raj'el would give one reason or another why that planet wasn't suitable.

Waving his hand over the console, which brought up another chart, Liam pointed to an oscillating circle - the second planet in that system. "What about this one?"

Raj'el brought up and read over the information the Taelons had gathered on the planet in question. "I am afraid not." Liam groaned in frustration and paced in a small circle.

"Problems?"

Both human and Taelon turned towards the sound of the voice and saw Renee and Yulyn enter the bridge. "You could say that," Liam replied, turning back to the console.

Raj'el turned to explain. "As you are aware, the former homeworld of the Atavus was destroyed. Our search continues for a suitable alternative."

"This has something to do with the fact that the Atavus didn't need to feed on their homeworld?" Renee asked, intrigued.

Raj'el inclined his head to the side, indicating she was correct. "Yes. Are you aware of why this was possible?" Renee shook her head.

"The atmosphere. . ." Yulyn mumbled, walking over to peer at the charts on the console with Liam.

Renee turned back to Raj'el with a questioning glance. "The child is correct," he began. "The physical and chemical aspects of your planet were identical to that of the Atavan homeworld with the exception of one - the abundance of nitrogen in your atmosphere proportional to the amount of carbon dioxide."

"It's something Howlyn didn't take into consideration when he brought his rebel followers here," Liam said as he came to join the conversation, allowing Yulyn to go over the charts at his own pace.

Renee turned to him, eyebrows raised. "How do you know that?"

"The same way I knew where their ship was," Liam replied. "The--"

"Universal Consciousness," she finished for him, still finding the thought of Liam connected to every other living being in the universe unnerving. "Right."

"The Atavan physiology is based primarily on an atmosphere of fifty percent nitrogen, thirty percent carbon dioxide, and twenty percent oxygen," Raj'el put forth. "On their homeworld, the Atavus never had a need to consume anything but plant matter."

"We're herbivorous," Yulyn offered distractedly, his attention focused on the console in front of him.

Renee couldn't help the small, unbelieving laugh that escaped. "I'm sorry. . .I just can't see Howlyn or Juda as vegetarians," she explained to a confused Raj'el.

Yulyn's head shot up, his curiosity piqued. "Juda?" he growled.

"What about her?" Renee asked him.

Slowly shaking his head, Yulyn turned back to the console. "Never mind."

Liam noticed Renee was going to press the issue. He had some idea of why Yulyn dropped the subject and sympathized. "Anyway," he began, turning Renee's attention back to the original topic, "the Earth's current atmosphere is twenty-one percent oxygen, seventy-eight percent nitrogen, and less than one percent carbon dioxide. At the time they arrived there would've been a little more composition of carbon dioxide than there is now, but it still wasn't enough. However, it was the closest to their homeworld they'd been able to find for years, and they believed they could adapt. Then they began to realize that the atmospheric differences were slowly destroying their metabolisms and their regenerative abilities." Out of the corner of his eye Liam could see Yulyn absently nodding as he concentrated on the star charts, his hands moving over the kinetic controls.

"So what happened?" Renee asked, intrigued. "They just decided to start feeding off others' life forces?"

"Pretty much," he replied. "The discovery was by accident, actually. Their cleaves originally evolved as a defence mechanism. One day a female Atavus, closer to death than many of the others, went off to be by herself in her final hours, away from the encampment. She was attacked by an animal and, reacting instinctively, stabbed the animal with her cleave in just the right spot that she began to absorb its life force. After the attack she felt strong again and went back to tell the others. They tried it themselves and found it stabilized them, at least for a while, and it became almost addictive. Once it wore off, they'd feed again. . .except for a few who were against it."

Renee looked over at Yulyn, who caught her stare. "My mother didn't want to live like a parasite, and neither did I," Yulyn explained, slightly reluctant. He turned back to the console and studied it closely. She wasn't sure if he was really interested in the data, or was using it as a way to distract himself from the home-hitting conversation.

Catching Liam's eye, Renee tossed him a questioning glance as she jerked her head in Yulyn's direction. Understanding her silent question, he mouthed the answer, "Younger. Adapt better." She nodded.

A far-away look momentarily crossed Liam's face. "Howlyn once said humans used to be a delicacy. . .I guess in his mind they would have been. Humans - even the Neanderthal man - became their more favorable prey because they were the species that most resembled them in physiology, therefore their life force was able to sustain them longer."

"Wait a minute," Renee interrupted. "How can the life force counteract the physiological differences?"

Liam sighed. "I don't know. No one's ever figured it out."

"Ma'el studied the phenomenon when he arrived on Earth, but with no animate Atavus to observe he was unable to arrive at any solid conclusions," Raj'el explained. "The research he sent back suggested the process allowed the transfer of a material that caused a similar reaction as that of the insulin in your body when you intake food, however Ma'el was unsure of the compound nor the exact reaction."

Renee raised a skeptical eyebrow. //That's the first time I've heard of a Taelon say they *didn't* know the answer,\\ she thought. //Maybe Raj'el really *is* different than the others.\\ "Okay. . . . Just to clarify, you're saying that if we can find a planet that has the same atmospheric conditions as the Atavan homeworld then they can live there without having to feed?"

"On another's life force, yes," Liam affirmed. "But so far. . ." he shook his head.

"The conditions do not have to be exact," Raj'el continued. "I have estimated the Atavus have the ability to adapt up to a seven percent increase or decrease of these elements. However, to ensure their peaceful survival, I would recommend a limitation of five percent."

Yulyn had put the conversation to the back of his mind as he studied the charts and the oscillating planets they contained; he was still listening, but not paying it much attention. However, Raj'el's comment came to the forefront of his mind. Quickly backtracking to one of the first charts, he ignored the single flashing circle that indicated a possibility and focused on the planet one orbital out, studying the data. He'd skimmed it when he first looked at the chart. "Why didn't you suggest this one?" He called out. "It looks fine to me."

Liam joined him at the console, Raj'el and Renee following. He took a very brief look over the displayed data before answering. "Raj'el had the computer do a sweep through the database to look for planets near our current position with the special atmospheric conditions, and then we manually went through them to check their habitability. The computer must have ruled this one out for a reason."

Yulyn hung his head dejectedly, however Renee's eyes opened wide as she stared at the data, which read:

~

PLANET E-21,438 - "LAH'RHIM'TAI" - ATMOSPHERIC COMPOSITION



NITROGEN = *44.3%*

CARBON DIOXIDE = 25.1%

OXYGEN = *29.3%*

TRACE ELEMENTS = 1.3%



CONDITIONS *INSUFFICIENT*

~

"Wait a minute." Renee mumbled. She spun around to face the Taelon. "Raj'el, you said we'd be on the safe side at five percent."

He inclined his head. "Correct."

"What about six percent?"

"The risk is still lessened, however five--"

"But," Renee cut him off, "we're talking about a five-point-seven percent difference in nitrogen. More than five percent but less than six. . .wouldn't the risk be acceptable?" Yulyn looked up, hopeful.

Liam shook his head. "But that means the oxygen content is over nine percent higher than it should be."

"So?" the young Atavus asked.

"So," Liam began, but stopped as he understood the meaning. A small grin spread across his face as he looked at Yulyn. "So!"

"What?" a very perplexed Renee asked.

"When we input the parameters for the computer sweep we used the three main components from the Atavan homeworld: nitrogen, carbon dioxide, *and* oxygen," Liam was getting excited now. "We should have altered the search field."

"The oxygen is what we breathe," Yulyn supplied. Renee was beginning to understand now.

"Oxygen levels weren't what caused the collapse of their metabolisms," Liam continued. "As long as there is enough of a self-replenishing supply to support the Atavus numbers, it doesn't matter what percentage it's at! Differences in oxygen levels *can* cause a few problems, but even humans can adapt to it at this percentage; it should be easy for the Atavus."

Raj'el gave the equivalent of a Taelon smile, mainly done with his eyes. "I concur."

Yulyn, while hopeful, remained wary. "So this one could work."

Renee glanced at both Liam and Raj'el before answering. "Looks like!" She grinned and opened her arms, hugging him.

Liam smiled at the sight and turned back to the console, bringing up a second screen. "We can be there in five days if we change course now." He looked over at Raj'el.

Nodding slightly, Raj'el moved over to the command chair and sat down gracefully, pulling up the holographic controls, his hands moving eloquently. "The Mothership has changed trajectory," he announced. "Our destination is now the planet designation E-21,438. . .Lah'rhim'tai."

~~~

"Hand me that electro-scanner, will you?" Liam asked. He was lying on his back underneath a console in the engine room. Yulyn handed him the small cylindrical tool from the other side of the console. "Thanks," he replied, using the scanner to inspect the ID drives.

Yulyn bit his bottom lip before speaking in a hesitant voice. "Liam. . .can I ask you something?"

"Of course you can," he assured. "We're friends, aren't we?"

"Yes," Yulyn replied. Liam noticed the slightly more relaxed tone in his voice; he knew Yulyn was still a little shy and uncertain around him - a situation he hoped would settle itself quickly, which is why he had been asking for the boy's help recently.

"Well?" Liam pressed when he didn't continue.

"Um. . .how. . .how old are you? Renee said you weren't like most humans."

Despite the fact his face was hidden Liam bit back the grin that threatened to cross his features. "Well," he began, "From someone else's perspective I guess I would be just under four years old." Feeling the need to clarify when Yulyn didn't say anything, he continued. "I was born two-thirds human, one third Kimera. The Kimera part of me accelerated my growth, and in the space of an hour after my birth I looked the same way I do now."

"Kimera?" the young Atavus muttered. "My father spoke of the Kimera. . . . He never met them, but his father before him claimed to have seen one."

"Yeah," Liam replied, turning back to the secondary ID drive, "The Kimera spent many years studying the Atavus."

"Renee said she thought I was the same age as a thirteen year old human, so does that mean that I'm older than you?" Yulyn asked, intrigued.

Liam smiled from under the console, thinking Yulyn was finally warming up to him. "Technically you're older than all of us. . .except maybe Raj'el." That elicited an understanding grin from the boy. "But if you're talking age-wise then yes, I'm the youngest person on this ship. But I was born with all the memories of my parents, which makes me feel like I've lived a full life."

"Oh." Yulyn frowned, thinking. "You said from someone else's perspective. . ." he left the comment open-ended, waiting for Liam to explain.

"Uh, well, I told you how I knew where your ship was, right?"

"Yes."

"Well," he paused for a moment, trying to formulate his thoughts into words. He slid out from under the console and sat up, facing Yulyn. "When I was in that Universal Consciousness, connect to the thoughts of every sentient species, it was like living in a limbo. . .I didn't even have a physical form. To the outside world I was gone for a year, but in my mind it was like. . .like I was there for an eternity. At first I thought I'd go crazy, but then. . .I don't know, I guess I adapted."

Yulyn was absently nodding, thinking. There was a long moment of silence before Liam changed the topic. "We're almost done here," he said as he lay back down and slid under the console again.

A few minutes later he had finished his inspection of the drives and had the console sealed. Liam had been checking the drives regularly every other day. . .despite having many similarities, there was still the possibility the Atavan and Taelon technologies weren't as compatible as they seemed. Gathering up their equipment they headed to another section of the ship to begin repairs on the defence systems.

~~~

Back in the Command chair of the bridge Renee sat staring at a data stream, bringing up files that contained information on various sectors of space.

"Renee."

She spun around to see Raj'el silently walking towards her position. "Damn, what is it with you and Liam?" Raj'el walked up and faced her, uncomprehending. "Never mind," she muttered, turning back to the display.

"Have you decided on a destination?" He asked, turning his attention to the data stream.

Waving her hand, she pulling up a star chart on the display. "I believe I have."

Raj'el studied the display, silent. "These star formations are unknown to me," he stated. "Where are these systems?"

Renee had a self-satisfied grin on her face. "Sector nine eighty-one." At Raj'el's slightly surprised yet confused expression Renee's grin widened.

"I am afraid that is not possible."

Raising an eyebrow, Renee tried to contain her amusement. "Oh, really? And why is that Raj'el?"

Raj'el turned to her, the movements of his hands demonstrating the classic Taelon equivalent to annoyance. "I have worked with you over the past year, and we have been in close quarters for the past twelve days. I have since then come to understand many of the different traits you possess, or so I believe. From your tone I would guess that you already know the answer to that which you ask."

If Raj'el's statement phased her, Renee didn't show it. "Very well. You don't want to check out that area because you don't already know what you'll find."

Raj'el inclined his head. "Though your wording may be crude, you are correct. We cannot venture into sectors five-thousand through thirteen- thousand and eight. They are uncharted."

Renee rolled her eyes. "I thought that was the whole point of me leaving my planet and coming out here with you - to chart the uncharted. And besides, you want to take us into sector eighty-three twelve."

"Yes, however the Atavus need a homeworld. There are no possibilities in your galaxy or any of the neighbouring ones, and I believe you would be opposed to the risk of keeping the stasis chamber on board indefinitely," Renee nodded, conceding that point. "We will not be staying long after the Atavus are transported to the planet. As for your being here, areas of space that have been mapped by the Taelons are uncharted in the eyes of your species."

Renee groaned. "That's not what I meant."

"I am aware of your meaning," Raj'el tried to reason. "However it is too dangerous to attempt these sectors until you have at least developed a proper procedure to inspect--"

"Okay Raj'el," Renee interrupted, biting her lower lip to keep her irritation at bay. She plastered what she hoped looked like a patient smile on her face. "Where do *you* think we should start?"

Sure enough, as Renee expected, Raj'el already had a direction in mind. "I suggest we begin with sectors fourteen-thousand one-hundred and fifty-six through fourteen-thousand one-hundred and ninety-eight. The Taelons have never encountered difficulties there."

Renee stared at the alien, eyes slightly wide. "Are you serious? Once we drop the Atavus off it'll take us more than four weeks to get there!"

"The actual distance from Lah'rhim'tai is more precisely six weeks." Renee's irritation grew by Raj'el's annoyingly calm voice.

"I am not going to wait that long," Renee replied, thinking, // I'm not gonna lose this battle! \\ "This sector," she stated, pointing to the data stream, "is only a week away at most."

Lightening up her voice a bit, she continued. "Come on Raj'el, live a little! If you're going to live on a ship with two humans you're going to have to learn to take risks! You can always say 'I told you so' if we end up dead." Realizing he was about to protest the impossibility of her last statement she quickly added, "You know Liam will back me on this one." Renee tried to hide her insecurity in her last statement. She knew Liam was not completely opposed to taking a risk, but she also knew he usually liked to take the safe road. . .she just hoped Raj'el didn't realize that.

Raj'el's demeanour didn't not change as he took a long moment to think about her words. She inwardly relaxed as he drooped his head slightly, the equivalent to a Taelon sigh. "Very well. We will take your suggestion. However I shall retain my opinion on this matter for future reference."

Renee sighed and muttered, "I thought you might."

"I shall retire to my quarters." With that the Taelon turned and left the bridge, as silently as he entered.

Renee just sat back and grinned, looking at the information displayed before her. //Victory!\\

~~~

As Liam approached the entrance to the primary defence stations he glanced back at Yulyn, who'd fallen a few feet behind. He caught sight of a small grimace on the boy's face and noticed him swallowing hard. "You okay?" he asked as he turned to a small panel on the wall, glad the Mothership was still accepting all of his old security codes - it saved him the time to have Raj'el give him clearance to certain areas.

Yulyn plastered a grin on his face. "Fine. Just have a dry throat."

"Alright, come on," Liam relented as he walked into the room and placed the equipment bag on top of an inactive console. "Here," he said as he produced a bottle of water from the bag and handed it to Yulyn. He watched as Yulyn took a few small sips, then asked, "Better?" His response was a nod. Liam knew the kid was lying to him but he couldn't press the issue without the risk of appearing confrontational, so he let it go for the moment.

Opening the access panel underneath a large display Liam got down on the floor and slid under it. "Yulyn, come on under here, I need your help. And bring the scanner." The young Atavus complied.

From under the display both Liam and Yulyn looked up at the complicated mosaic of wires and circuits integrated into the living Taelon bio-slurry. With the help of a small flashlight Liam searched for a particular circuit panel.

"What are you looking for?" Yulyn asked, interested.

"The command circuit," Liam replied. He reached up and touched one of the wires and then began to follow its twisting pathway with his fingers. "When Sandoval and your father tried to access the ship's defences they changed a lot of the main protocols and command codes. The only sure way to restore them is to erase everything and reset the controls." He sighed. It was going to be a long, tedious job but it had to be done.

"My father," Yulyn sneered, shaking his head.

Liam stopped his tracing fingers and looked over at his companion. "What is it?"

Yulyn continued looking up at the inner workings of the display board. "Nothing."

"You can tell me," Liam replied, continuing his quest to the command circuit. "We have a lot of work to do here, might as well pass the time." Liam believed he'd failed when a silence descended. He was mildly startled when Yulyn finally spoke.

"My father was good once, but he was never content to live the life his father had planned for him. He never really seemed happy until we came here and the Atavus began to feed on the life force of others." There was a hint of anger in Yulyn's voice. "He jumped at the chance to destroy your species. I have always believed that had I been more willing to challenge my father, to help him see the error in his ways, that maybe he would have-- "

"Hey, hey," Liam interrupted, looking over at the boy. "There's nothing you could have done."

Yulyn, still staring ahead, shook his head. "But if I had been able to show--"

Liam cut him off again. "But what? You can't change someone who doesn't want to be changed. Your mother knew this," Yulyn whipped his head over to look at Liam, wide-eyed. "And at some level, so do you."

Yulyn dropped his eyes and nodded slightly. "Yes. However, when he was alive there was always the chance he would find a way to atone for his crimes. Now there is no such chance. All because he could not resist temptation."

Liam sighed. He had to make Yulyn see that he was not responsible for his father's actions. "I might as well tell you this. Renee knows, and I'm pretty sure Raj'el does too." Liam paused, unsure how to go on. "What did you know about Sandoval?"

Yulyn frowned, unsure of the reason behind the question. "Not much, I didn't really know him. I do know that he was willing to sell out your species to my father. And to the Jaridians, before we were awoken."

Liam nodded. "Yulyn, Ronald Sandoval was my father." Once again Yulyn shot Liam an amazed, albeit disbelieving, look. "It's true," he affirmed. "And you know how I said I had the memories of my parents? Well, from them I can tell you truthfully that Sandoval was once a decent person who only wanted the best for humanity. . .but then he changed, just like Howlyn did. Your father *has* never and *will* never be the only one to change for the worse." Liam glanced at Yulyn and noticed him deep in thought. //At least I'm getting through to him,\\ he thought. "And, just like Howlyn, Sandoval will never be able to make up for the things he's done." This last sentence was said somewhat quiet, almost reserved.

Yulyn mulled over what Liam was telling him. "Why does it happen?"

Liam thought for a second. "Our fathers had something in common - a weakness for power. Everyone has one supreme weakness. And the problem is, in most cases, that weakness will eventually be exploited."

There was silence for several seconds. "I think I understand," Yulyn stated, although he sounded unsure.

"Good," Liam replied, turning back his work. He was getting a little uncomfortable with the discussion - it was hitting a little too close to home for the time being. And they had work to do. "Got it," he said as his hand grasped the correct circuit.

Yulyn welcomed the subject change. "What now?"

"Here," Liam said as he handed the flashlight to Yulyn, allowing him to work with both hands. "Keep the beam on it." He took his hands and found two buttons on either side of the thin circuit. Pushing on them at the same time and holding, he directed Yulyn. "Okay, I need you to reach up and push that red circle in the middle and hold until I tell you. That should reset the defence systems."

Yulyn, experiencing a small wave of dizziness and disorientation, did as he was bid and reached up. After several seconds of holding in these specific pressure points on the circuit they heard a single deep-toned burst, reminiscent of the ships' alarm system. "Was that it?" the young Atavus asked.

Liam released the two buttons he was holding and replied, "I think so." Yulyn too released his hold. Picking up the scanner, Liam passed it over the main circuit. "Yep, now we just have to reset the parameters."

He put down the scanner and took another look at the inner workings of the system. "Okay, Yulyn? Can you move the--" he was cut off by the sound of something dropping to the ground - the flashlight. The next thing Liam was aware of was Yulyn trying to slide out from under the display console as fast as he possibly could. "Yulyn?" His only answer was the sound of his companion standing up and walking - no, running - away from the station. Liam quickly slid out from his position and sat up, watching as the quickly retreating figure left the room. "Yulyn!" When the boy was out of sight Liam followed, muttering under his breath, "Damn it!"

~~~

After a few minutes of searching, Liam found Yulyn in one of the nearby public washrooms that had been installed for the Volunteers. He was kneeling in one of the stalls and, from the sounds of things, was throwing up what little he'd ate for breakfast that morning. Grabbing one of the reusable cloths from a bin, Liam went to a nearby sink and wet it lightly then turned back to Yulyn.

Whatever had caused his sudden need to throw up seemed to have sub-sided, and Yulyn gave a half-hearted, appreciative smile to Liam when he was handed the damp cloth, which he used to scrub his face. "You alright?" Liam asked as he helped the shaky kid stand up, knowing full well the answer to that question - all the signs were there, there was something seriously wrong with Yulyn.

"I'll be okay," Yulyn replied, tossing the cloth into the small recycle unit built into the wall.

Liam studied his face for a moment, the face that was a lot paler than it should have been. "You think you can walk?" Liam kidded, trying to lighten the mood.

Despite himself, Yulyn allowed a small grin to cross his face as he fought another wave of dizziness. "Yeah."

"Okay, let's get you back to bed," Liam replied, making sure Yulyn wasn't going to collapse before leading the way out of the washroom.

Taking a look back Liam noticed that, although the kid had dropped a few paces behind, seemed to holding his own, and so he reverted his eyes back in his current direction. Unbeknownst to him, Yulyn was fighting an internal battle of wills - and losing.

The young Atavus was staring at the ground underneath his feet as he walked, allowing his instincts to propel him in the right direction. All of a sudden his head snapped up and his gaze fixed itself on Liam's back, his pupils so dilated that they appeared completely black. Slowly raising his right hand- fingers splayed slightly, there came shooting from his fingertips lightning-white, two-inch claws - Atavan cleaves.

With his gaze trained on the man in front of him, the young Atavus let out a low growl and prepared to strike.

~~~~~~~~~

To Be Continued in VS602. . . .

~~~~~~~~~

End of Departure (VS601)