I'm only going to disclaim this story once, in full, so listen very carefully, I shall say this only once: Eric, Kimberly, Alice, Alex, Wes and Jen don't belong to me, they belong to BVE. No harm, no foul, no money made. Every other character that is going to crop up over the course of the rest of this story belongs to me; please do not borrow without asking me first.
While this prologue is PG-13 in rating, the rest of the story is going to be apt to be rated somewhere around a strong R for language, sexual innuendo and most especially for violence.
Some of the locations mentioned are real, but not being a member of the USMC (nor a local to the Camp Pendleton area), I've probably got some/all of the location details wrong -- please forgive those. Please also forgive any errors of military protocol and medical goofs -- I have done my best to research the details, but not being a member of the USMC or the medical community, I know I'm probably wrong in places. Even the best research can only go so far.
While this is the follow up to Max Force, it is also the follow up to Scars. If you haven't read either of those, you will very likely find yourself lost.
Timing is three weeks from the end of Max Force.
With very, very grateful thanks to Gamine for patiently pulling out the nits and reading this over several times. Also to Irina who graciously volunteered for nit picking duty. Thank you, ladies -- much appreciated. Believe me!
Please offer feedback -- it tells me how I'm doing.
Prologue -- Promises Made
312 Maple Street, Silverhills
25th March 2002; 7:01am
Eric lay in bed wondering who on earth was hammering on his door at seven o'clock in the morning, on a Monday morning -- and his first proper day off in more time than he cared to think about -- of all things. He wondered if he ignored them long enough, maybe they'd go away.
Not the way my luck normally runs, he decided, groaning.
"All right, all right -- I'll be there in a minute," he yelled, slowly rolling out of bed. He paused long enough to pull on a t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants before padding out of his bedroom and up to the front door.
Opening the door, he found himself staring at Jen and Wes, who both looked grim.
"What?" he asked, knowing it was going to be bad news.
"Can we come in?" Wes asked.
Eric sighed and opened the door wider. "This is supposed to be my day off," he said reproachfully as they entered.
"Don't shoot the messengers," Jen replied.
"Now I know I'm not going to like this," Eric muttered, closing the door behind them. "Do you want coffee?"
"Gina will have the coffee on by the time we get there," Wes answered.
Eric groaned. "What part of 'Eric Myers wants a day off' does the universe not understand?" He looked at Wes and Jen. "And don't, either of you, say a word. Not one word." He headed back into his bedroom. "Do I have time for a shower or is whatever this is so urgent..."
"We have an hour," Wes cut in. "So yes, you have time for a shower."
"Just no coffee."
"Look at it this way," Jen offered, "the quicker you're ready, the quicker you can have some of Gina's special blend Java. She was putting it on especially for you."
"That," said Eric pointedly, heading from bedroom to bathroom, "is bribery." He paused and looked over his shoulder at both. "If you've resorted to that, things must be really bad."
He entered the bathroom. Wes' answer followed him, "Depends on your definition of bad."
Eric turned on the shower. He knew without being told that whatever this was about it meant that his day off was cancelled. Take a day off, they said. Have a long weekend, they said. You've earned it, they said. There's nothing that could possibly come up that would need your attention, they said. Ha! Eric snorted. I should have known. The closest he had come to having a day off in the last eighteen months had been the day he and Jen had driven up to Del Oro Bay. And that wasn't exactly a day of leisure.
With a sigh, Eric turned to face into the spray. I'd been hoping to use today to start planning my departure. He was still not sure where he was going to go, or what he was going to do when he got there, but after his last conversation with Kimberly, some eight weeks ago, leaving was probably the only option. Working out where to go had been on his list of 'things to do' for the day, along with more mundane tasks like finally clearing out the backyard. But none of that's gonna get done now.
The hot water was starting to run lukewarm now.
Wherever I do go I'm going to make damn sure there's a bigger hot water tank than this place!
With another sigh, he shut off the water, climbed out of the shower and started to dry off. Now that the water was off he could hear the murmur of chat between Wes and Jen. This was feeling worse by the second. As he shaved, he could hear snatches of the conversation:
"...yes I'm sure." That was Wes.
"...go for it -- do you?" Jen.
"I...'ly not but..."
Eric groaned, wishing the razor had slipped that point. If Alex was involved this really was not good news. He finished shaving and gave his teeth a cursory swipe with the toothbrush before pulling on the sweats and t-shirt to head back to his bedroom to get dressed.
"Nearly done?" Wes enquired as he exited the bathroom.
"Five minutes," Eric replied, shaking his head. Wes being antsy was another sign that whatever was up was something he really, really wasn't going to like. He headed into his bedroom again, closing the door behind himself and started to hastily get changed.
Less than three minutes later, and trailing bootlaces, Eric left his bedroom again. Stalling the inevitable query, he said, "Just let me grab a slice of toast and I will be done."
"Did I say anything?" Wes asked.
"No but you were thinking it." Eric rammed a slice of bread into the toaster. While he was waiting for it, he bent over and tied the laces of his boots. "Do I get to know what this is all about?"
"It'll be easier to explain when we get to the SG headquarters," Jen answered. "But you're..."
"Not going to like it?" Eric suggested, straightening in time to catch the slice of almost carbonised toast that popped out of the now smoking toaster. "I figured that." Jen stared at him. "What?"
Eric glanced at it. "I guess."
"You eat it like that?" said Wes, startled.
Eric took a bite, shrugged and swallowed the mouthful. "I thought you guys were in a hurry."
"Good point. Ready?" Wes asked, still staring at the toast.
"Yes -- and quit staring at my breakfast," Eric retorted. "Yes it's burnt, yes I eat it like that. No, I'm not asking you to eat it!"
"Time out!" Jen interjected. "C'mon -- we know it's early, we know this was supposed to be your day off. Moan in the car -- we have to be at the beach in ten minutes."
"The beach?" Eric echoed, collecting his keys from where he'd dumped them the previous evening.
"The beach," Wes confirmed, heading towards the door. "Otherwise known as the time ship landing zone."
Eric groaned softly. "Here we go again."
From the looks of things, the time ship had just landed as Wes pulled up to the side of the coast road. All Eric had been able to find out so far was that the time ship was bringing Alex and that Alex would explain everything. Right -- and I came down in the last rain shower, Eric thought with sarcasm. Alex only tells the part of the truth that suits him.
No sooner had the SUV come to a stop than Alex, in full Time Force uniform, appeared and climbed into the back of the SUV -- much to Eric's irritation.
"Sorry about this," Alex apologised.
"This was supposed to be my day off," Eric muttered. "This had better be life threatening."
"Eric, can it," Wes instructed.
Eric subsided, but continued to glare at Alex, who shifted a little nervously in his seat.
"I know this isn't a good time," Alex added. "I'd have liked to have given you a good couple of months to settle down -- unfortunately, the bigwigs have other ideas."
Eric heard Jen groan from the passenger seat and mutter, "The bigwigs usually do."
"How about we save the explanations until we get to the SG Headquarters?" Wes suggested, pulling back onto the road. "Particularly if they're going to involve an explanation of time travel -- giving the car driver a migraine attack is not a good idea."
"What makes you think there's an explanation of time travel?" Alex asked, puzzled.
"Because," Eric answered, "even if you have to see us 'today', what was wrong with pushing your arrival point back a couple of months -- if you were so desperate to give us time to settle down."
"Ah." Eric could see Alex resisting the impulse to loosen his collar. "Good point."
"At headquarters!" said Wes. "Unless you want to drive?" he added, meeting Eric's gaze in the rear-view mirror.
"All right, I'll behave," Eric muttered. "For now."
The rest of the journey passed in silence.
As Wes pulled into the parking lot, Jen said, "I'll pick up the coffee from Gina -- maybe that will cheer someone up."
"That," said Eric, "would require today not having started by me being kicked out of bed at seven o'clock on my day off."
"I figured you'd prefer today to tomorrow," Alex offered.
"Tomorrow?" said Wes. "What's happening tomorrow?"
Eric glared poisonously in Alex's direction. "Thank you very much."
"Tomorrow?" Jen prompted.
Eric noted the apologetic expression on Alex's face. "I figured they'd know."
"I've gone to some length to make sure they didn't," Eric retorted.
"Know what?" Wes and Jen asked in unison.
"Tomorrow's his birthday," Alex informed them.
There was a moment of stunned silence.
"Eric?" queried Wes, turning in his seat to look.
Eric put his head in his hands. "Yes. All right?"
"Why didn't you say something?" Jen asked.
"Because it doesn't matter. It's just another day."
"But..." began Wes.
"It is just another day," Eric gritted. "Are we going to hold this discussion about whatever the heck it is in the SUV or are we going to go inside?"
"B..." Wes sighed. "OK."
"Wes -- how about you show Alex into the conference room, Eric and I can pick up the coffee," Jen suggested.
Before Eric could object he found himself alone with Jen in the SUV as Wes and Alex departed -- rapidly in Alex's case.
"Coming?" Jen asked, opening the passenger door to climb out herself.
Eric sighed. "Sure. Although," he added, getting out of the SUV, "if you think this is going to be some kind of 'talk'..."
"I'd be absolutely right," Jen cut in. "C'mon." She led the way into the headquarters. "Now, we can go through the bullshit about this being none of my business, but I've just made it my business, so why don't we skip that part and you just tell me why you didn't say anything?"
Eric groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering wildly how he'd landed up on this particular ring of hell. "Can I at least get some caffeine before I try and answer that?" he pleaded weakly.
Jen smiled sympathetically. "You're really not a morning person," she observed.
"Not when I have any choice in the matter," Eric agreed. "Which, admittedly, hasn't exactly been often."
"OK -- you can have some coffee first, but I am going to get an answer," Jen warned.
"If it's that important." Jen just looked at him. "OK, it's that important."
"Good...um... Commander Myers." Gina's greeting managed to lift Eric's mood.
"Must look bad if she knows it's not a good morning," he murmured softly.
Jen snickered. "Hey Gina -- is the coffee done?"
"Certainly is -- I've already taken it through to the conference room. But I figured..." To Eric's amazement, she produced his mug already filled.
"Gina, I think you've just achieved Sainthood," Jen snickered as Eric made a beeline for the mug.
Eric knew he ought to retaliate for the teasing -- particularly as Gina started snickering too -- but he couldn't bring himself to care. It was coffee. Maybe the morning might start to look up now.
"OK -- commune with the caffeine God on the way to the conference room."
Maybe not. Eric inhaled half the mug-full. "All right, all right."
He followed Jen into the building.
"So...?" Jen prompted. "You have caffeine -- why didn't you say anything about tomorrow?"
"You have a one track mind," Eric complained.
"Eric, you're my friend," Jen answered, stopping his progress along the hallway, "and it bothers me when my friends don't think they can trust me enough to tell me when their birthday is."
"It's not a matter of trust," Eric replied. "It's..." He stopped.
He inhaled the rest of the coffee in his mug before answering, "Do you know the last time anyone bothered about it being my birthday?" Mutely Jen shook her head. "Me either." Jen stared in wide-eyed disbelief. "I'm not kidding. My mother lost interest in me when I was about four." He shrugged a little awkwardly.
"What about your dad?" Jen asked, looking shocked.
Eric snorted bitterly. "Never met the son of a bitch. My mother couldn't even tell me his first name when I was old enough to ask her about it." Jen winced. "So, you'll forgive me if I don't tend to get excited by the prospect of my birthday."
Eric waved off the apology. "Eh, don't worry about it -- you didn't know. Just...trust me. Tomorrow is just another day." He fixed her with a look. "And it's staying that way, right?"
Jen smiled. "I can take a hint."
Eric regarded the bottom of his mug, realising for the first time that it was empty. "We should probably get to the conference room before Wes starts thinking I've made off with his fiancée."
Jen chuckled. "Good point."
She moved out of his way and they resumed the journey to the conference room, this time in silence.
"Beginning to think you guys had got lost," Wes observed as Eric and Jen finally entered the conference room.
Eric smirked faintly as he sat down. "Not hardly." He helped himself to another mug of coffee. "Now, would someone mind telling me just what the hell is going on today?"
"That would be me," said Alex quietly.
"OK. So...?" Eric prompted.
"What do you want to hear first?" Alex asked. "Why today or why I'm here period?"
"Why today," suggested Jen. "Why is this trip so urgent?"
"Eric," Alex answered.
Eric stared at the Time Force officer, almost choking on his coffee. "Excuse me?"
"You're preparing to leave, aren't you?" Alex replied.
Eric noted that neither Wes nor Jen looked entirely surprised by that revelation. Am I that transparent? he found himself wondering. "I might be -- does that make any difference?"
"Makes a hell of a difference." Alex sat back in his seat. "I wanted to have this discussion two or three months down the line when the dust had settled after Biocon. Unfortunately," he continued, folding his arms across his chest, "two or three months down the line, you aren't here."
There was something Alex wasn't saying. Eric frowned.
"If he's not here," Wes put in, "where is he?"
Alex shrugged. "If I knew the answer to that question, I couldn't tell you. As it is, I don't know anyway."
"You expect us to believe that?" Eric asked.
Alex shrugged again. "It happens to be true."
Eric had long since developed a knack for knowing when he was being lied to. It had been a form of self-protection for so long that it was almost a subconscious reaction. And one look at Alex now set that warning off, loud and clear. "Sure it is," he drawled.
Eric had to give Alex credit for not looking at all bothered at being rumbled. "Fine -- you don't have to believe me, but that is all I'm saying on the subject."
Again Eric knew he was lying. He opened his mouth to say so, but Jen got in first, "OK, we've established why now, so why at all?"
For answer, Alex produced a datapad from the briefcase he'd been carrying. "The bigwigs in Time Force want some form of...contract between us in 3000 and you guys here."
"Contract?" said Wes sharply.
"You've both," and Alex indicated Wes and Eric, "got honorary ranks within Time Force..."
"We do?" said Eric, surprised. "Well I suppose that explains why Lucas told me he outranked me."
Alex smirked faintly. "Actually, he doesn't any more."
Alex shook his head. "Anyway, the bigwigs are concerned that 'inappropriate technology' is being left in the hands of 'unknowns and renegades'."
"Which one of us is the renegade and which one of us is the unknown?" Wes wondered.
"They want to take the morphers -- and that includes the Quantum Morpher -- back to 3000," Alex explained, ignoring Wes' musing.
"But they'll be so much scrap metal in 3000!" Jen objected.
Alex gave a tired grin. "Which is what I said."
"What's the plan?" Jen asked quietly.
"The plan is," Alex answered, "that the three of you retain your morphers but you remain answerable to Time Force -- or become answerable to Time Force," he added, looking at first Wes then Eric.
Eric muttered, "Hit the bottom line, Alex -- what do you mean?"
"Bottom line: Either you agree to sign up, or in Jen's case, remain signed on as Time Force officers; or you turn your morphers over to me when I leave."
Eric stared, incredulous. "You want us to what?!"
"Technically," Alex answered wryly, "they're Time Force property. I know," he added before anyone could say anything else, "that they're next to useless without the three of you holding them. Unfortunately, convincing the bigwigs of that has been well nigh impossible. This is the compromise."
"What is this going to involve?" Jen asked.
Alex pushed the datapad across the table towards her. "That's the contract. The bigwigs have agreed to the three of you being permanently stationed in time -- as they see it. You won't be salaried -- unless you happened to have cause to come forward in time, then you'd be getting the standard pay deal. You probably won't be eligible for promotion either, but as all three of you will be at the rank of Captain, there isn't a whole lot further you could climb up the rank ladder anyway."
"But what is it going to involve?" Wes pressed.
Eric snorted. "Right. No such thing as a free lunch."
Alex looked amused. "Literally, all it involves is you and Wes sign...thumb print the contract and that's it, unless Time Force require anything in this time period."
Eric rolled his eyes. "Knew it."
"We'd do that anyway," Wes reminded him.
Eric shrugged. "So?"
"Anyway. That's the offer."
Eric looked at Jen. "You know this organisation. Think we can trust them to not interfere in our lives?"
Jen shrugged. "Probably -- there are rules and regs about how much interference Time Force can have with a time period. We live here -- regardless of what datapads you sign -- therefore they can't actually do anything to you. They certainly can't drag you out of time -- that's a criminal act."
Shouldn't doesn't mean won't, Eric mused. After all, Biocon was a Time Force officer.
"Well," Jen continued, "I chose to be a Time Force officer and if they're happy to say I'm still a Time Force officer then I guess that's what I am."
Wes held out his hand for the datapad. "I might not have known what I was letting myself in for last June but I chose to take on the morpher and whatever came with it." Eric saw him glance at Alex. "Just tell me where to sign."
A moment later, as Wes imprinted his thumb in the right place, Eric felt everyone's attention focus in on him.
"If you don't want to, you don't have to," Alex observed.
Eric pinched the bridge of his nose. Every instinct was screaming at him not to do it. Every last fibre told him this would probably come back to haunt him. And that annoying sense of right and wrong chose that moment to rear its head and point out that not doing it was tantamount to cowardice.
Rubbing his face with one hand, he held the other out towards Wes. "For the record, I think this is the worst decision I've ever made, but I'll do it."
"Eric, you don't have to..." began Jen.
"No, what I didn't have to do was pick up the QCB last July -- and I sure as shit didn't have to activate it." Eric sighed. "For better or worse, I chose to do all that." He imprinted his thumb on the datapad and slid it back across the table to Alex. "I'm in."
Alex looked visibly relieved, Eric noted. "Thank you." He tucked the datapad back into the briefcase. "The other thing is -- Jen, Askot's court case is up."
Eric watched Jen nod. "You said," she replied. That was when Eric finally realised that Alex must have put in a holoscreen call to have pre-warned Jen, at least, of his imminent arrival.
"You're being called as a witness. Askot's lawyer tried," and Alex snorted, "to have you named as a defence witness."
"That's absurd," said Eric.
Alex grinned. "That was what the Supreme Court told him. Unfortunately," he continued, the grin fading, "there's no way that you're going to avoid testifying -- and testifying in person."
Eric looked from Jen to Wes. Both seemed to know what the implications of that were. "Anyone wanna fill me in here?" he appealed.
"It means I have to go back to 3000 for a few weeks," Jen answered.
"Three," put in Alex. "At least, to appearances here. If I could guarantee trial length, you could be gone and back in a day, but... Legal proceedings still take as long as they take, and this is far from straight forward."
Eric nodded slowly. "So Jen goes away for three weeks?"
"Jen and Wes," Alex corrected.
Eric noted that again, neither Wes nor Jen looked surprised. "For three weeks?"
"For three weeks," Alex confirmed.
Eric looked from Wes to Jen and then back to Alex. "Leaving when?"
"This afternoon." It was Jen who answered.
Eric stared. "You leave, this afternoon, for three weeks?" he whispered.
He counted to ten, slowly. Then again in German. Then a third time in the Serbo-Croat he'd picked up while serving in Bosnia.
Does it occur to you, you thickheaded son of a bitch, that there might be a good reason for this?
"Eric, it's not what you're thinking."
Eric finally risked looking up at Wes who had so far been speaking.
Take a risk for once in your goddamned life.
"OK." Eric forced himself to meet Wes' gaze. If I'm gonna be lied to, I wanna be lied to face to face.
For Christ's sake -- this is the guy who you trust with your life. Is it really so hard to believe that he's not going to sell you down the river now?
"The reason we didn't say anything is because we didn't want you to feel trapped."
Eric stared. "Trapped?" he echoed.
Jen nodded. "We know you're thinking of leaving," she explained. "The last thing I wanted was for you to feel obligated to stay just because this might happen."
Eric stared. It took several seconds for Jen's words to actually sink in. See? They were thinking of you. They weren't lying to be malicious. You have so gotta get over yourself, Myers. "Oh." He wasn't sure what was more embarrassing. Having leapt to conclusions in the first place or the absurd amount of relief he felt on being wrong.
Eric sighed. It was anything but OK. This was one of the reasons he needed time away at the very least. "I guess you guys need to sort out the details of your trip...I'll get out of the way."
"You don't have to..." began Alex.
Eric shrugged, suddenly feeling very, very tired. "If you're going away there's stuff I need to do before you leave. I'll get a start on that."
TO BE CONTINUED...