Chapter 8 -- Just a Training Exercise…

"Cole can you hear me?" Mel's voice came over the headset. She was at home, watching their progress on one of the satellites that Cole had hacked into for the occasion. The colored blips clearly indicated humans, fugitives, and the single Cirronian.

"Yes, Mel," Cole whispered.

"Vic?"

"Loud and clear," he replied.

"Great. Seven humans and a fugitive about 150 feet in front of you."

Vic peered around the boxcar they were taking cover behind and nodded. "I see them, Mel. They're all uniformed. MPs. Which one is our fugitive?"

"Far left, flanked by two others."

Vic nodded. "See him. Tall guy, wearing shades."

"Enixian," Cole whispered, leaning around Vic for a quick look. "Mel, any other fugitives in the area?"

"None that I can see, no."

Cole sighed and nodded. "Okay. Tell us if that changes."

"Copy that," Mel replied.

Cole frowned faintly. "I said, 'okay. Tell us if that changes'. Is your reception unclear, Mel?"

Vic chuckled softly, and could hear Mel doing the same.

She explained, "It means that I heard you."

"Oh. Yes, Mel."

Vic shook his head, amused. "Mel, lay off the CB lingo, okay?"

"10-4, good buddy," came the reply.

Cole stared at Vic, unsure why he was laughing. Another human in-joke, he supposed. These humans had books for everything, including lame pick-up lines, but no one had ever thought to write one which could explain why humans considered some things funny. Watching Vic struggle to contain his laughter and hearing Mel's soft chuckles over the headset, he doubted it all would have fit into a single volume. On Cirron, Terrestrial humor probably would have been a life-long pursuit, attempted by only the most dedicated of scholars.

"What if Zarreth decides to strike somewhere else?" Vic asked in a low voice.

"Then we're screwed," Mel replied.

Cole frowned, not quite understanding the word in that context. "We'll think of something else."

"Cole!" Mel hissed. "There's a fugitive behind you, 50 feet and closing!"

Cole and Vic both spun and saw nothing.

Vic shook his head. "No, Mel. There's no one there."

"Dessarians, Vic," Cole reminded him gently, looking around.

"Right. And how do you spot one?"

Cole shrugged. "You don't." He scanned the area thoughtfully for a moment, taking a step forward.

"Getting warmer, Cole."

Cole nodded and continued walking, allowing himself to be guided by Mel's voice. Vic stared for a moment, then followed.

"Red hot, Cole. Turn to your left and you've got her."

Cole spun on his heel and spoke to the brick wall in from of him. "Hello, Zarreth."

A girl, not more than 15 seemed to step out of the wall. She was a tiny little thing, harmless-looking to Vic. "I never did get a chance to repay you for depriving me of my last body," she sneered at Cole, ignoring Vic. "So much harder to pick up museum curators in this one…"

Cole smiled benignly, shrugging. "If it's any comfort, you won't be forced to deal with this one for much longer."

"If you say so." Shrugging, Zarreth backhanded Cole, sending him flying.

"Jeez!" Vic yelped, taking an involuntary step backwards. Watching a girl who could not have been more than 95 pounds tossing Cole several feet was startling to say the least. Fortunately, they were still obscured from view of the soldiers by the train-car.

"You must be getting desperate," Zarreth laughed, closing on Cole before he could rise and kicking him in the side. "Recruiting humans?" She shook her head in obvious contempt and kicked him again. Steel-tipped boots connected with his body and he could clearly hear bones breaking.

Cole groaned and struggled to pull himself to his feet.

"Cole? Vic? Talk to me!" Mel's voice came over the headsets.

"Mel, do these things have a weakness?" Vic hissed, flattening himself against a wall as Cole and Zarreth pummeled each other.

"No, and you've got bigger problems. The fugitive from the military contingent is coming your way…"

"Um, Enixian… Cole said he was Enixian earlier."

"Loud noises and bright lights, Vic! Use the dog-whistle."

Vic nodded and fumbled in his pockets for the panic-button that he had been given. It emitted a loud noise, outside the range of human hearing but, apparently, enough to disable an Enixian. He hit it as soon as the soldier rounded the corner, amazed when the uniformed man immediately dropped to the ground, clutching his ears and screaming.

"Vax, you moron! Stop that howling!" Zarreth snapped, not bothering to take her attention from her assault on Cole. Pay-back could be such a glorious thing and she had no intention of rushing things.

Keeping one finger firmly on the button, Vic took a deep breath and walked up to Zarreth, who had not spared him so much as a glance since commenting on his presence. Unable to believe his own gall, or possibly sheer stupidity, he tapped her on the shoulder. Startled, she spun to face him by instinct, her face betraying confusion.

Vic gave her a smile. "Hi, um… Vic Bruno, Robbery/Homicide," he said in an anxious voice as she stared incredulous. Behind her, Cole was struggling to his feet. "Now would be a really good time to look behind you," he suggested.

Zarreth spun again, realizing a moment too late that her opponent was not only on his feet, but also holding his Collector in her path. She emitted a prolonged howl that managed to outdo Vax's screaming as Cole ripped the life-force from her body, using her own momentum. Vic swallowed hard. It was as bad this time as it had been the first. He doubted he would ever grow used to the site of Cole ripping out another person's soul.

Stepping over Zarreth, Cole advanced on the still-screaming Enixian. "You can take your finger off the button now, Vic," Cole suggested, pulling Vax to his feet with one hand and raising the Collector with the other.

Three soldiers rounded the corner, guns raised, just in time to see Cole Collect the Enixian's life-force. They froze in fearful confusion.

"Chicago PD," Vic announced, slowly raising his badge only to find three M-16s leveled in his direction. "Robbery/Homicide," he added quietly, staring at Cole for guidance.

Cole looked from Vic to the soldiers. "Don't you have a shipment of smallpox to be guarding?" he asked mildly, going into hyper-speed and grabbing Vic. He ran, dragging Vic with him, until his hyper-speed ability faltered.

"What the--" Vic gasped, looking around fearfully.

"Just run," Cole panted, grabbing his arm and pushing. "Men with guns, remember."

"Vic? Cole? Can you hear me?" Mel's voice was frantic over the headset.

"Yeah, Mel," Vic panted, running in the direction Cole indicated, realizing that Mel, not able to hear much more than screaming, must have been horrified for them. "Cole got them both."

"Are you both okay? Are you hurt?"

"No," Vic told her, clambering into the car that Cole had left waiting. He belatedly realized that he was wrong. "I think Cole might be hurt," he said, glancing at the Cirronian in the passenger-seat, doubled over and panting raggedly.

"Okay. Get back here now."

"On our way," Vic assured her, starting the car.

***

"Ah!" Cole groaned as Vic poked at his side. He was laying on Mel's bed, shirtless, his side one massive bruise.

"Definitely broken," Vic sighed, shaking his head and glancing up at Mel. "Can you fix this?"

"Um…" Mel glanced at Cole, her eyes wide and questioning.

Cole nodded weakly, groping for her hands. She slid both hands into his and allowed him to slide them into place over the injury.

"Close your eyes, follow my lead," Cole managed, closing his own eyes and focusing on the damage. In the car he had managed to heal the punctured lung and internal bleeding, but had been too weak to deal with the broken bones. "Mel," he began. "This will take a lot from you."

"It's okay. Just do it."

Cole sighed and nodded weakly, allowing what was left of his energy to combine with hers. "Yes," he breathed, nodding. He could feel Mel's effort to direct her power and his own directly to the injury, to economize both of their energy. The pain began to recede, replaced by beautiful, soothing warmth. "Perfect, you're doing just fine, Mel."

Mel nodded and closed her eyes. "I feel it. Wait… There." She smiled weakly. "All better."

"All better," Cole agreed, nodding and reaching up as she slumped forward. "Rest now, Mel," he whispered, easing her onto the bed and positioning her comfortably. "Rest now. You'll be better in a few hours. He pressed his lips against her forehead. Sleep well."

She smiled and nodded languidly. "Mmm, that feels good," she yawned. "Healing people like that…"

"Yes, Mel," Cole agreed, nodding. "Better than a hot-fudge sundae followed by really great sex. Followed by another hot-fudge sundae. Sleep well…"

Vic smiled and shook his head, turning to leave.

"Vic," Mel called, raising her hand.

"Yeah, Mel?" he asked, moving to her side and taking her hand in his.

"Great job. You did good out there."

"Actually, I nearly got us both killed."

"S'okay," she yawned, smiling. "So did I the first couple of times out of the box." She closed her eyes. "Ten out of ten for guts, minus several million for good thinking. But ten out of ten for style…" She gave a small laugh. "Um, call it an 8.3…" she yawned. "I'm proud of you, Vic."

"Thanks, Mel." He smiled and gave her hand a gentle squeeze before resting it on her chest and leaving the already sleeping woman.

"This isn't a job," Vic told Cole, following him down the stairs. "It's… suicide-camp."

Cole smiled and nodded. "Yes, Vic."

"God, no wonder you want to be a civilian again so much," Vic laughed, patting his shoulder. He stopped abruptly, his smile faded, replaced by surprise as he saw the woman sitting at the bar. "Mar…"

Maria waved absently from her seat at the bar, rising and moving to intercept them. "Somehow, I knew I'd find you here, Vicky."

"Vicky?" Cole repeated, tilting his head at Vic.

"Don't ask, man." Vic shook his head. "Detective Maria Cruz, Robbery/Homicide, Cole Hauser…" he trailed off, wondering exactly how to introduce a cop like Cole to people.

"INS," Cole supplied without missing a beat as he shook her hand. "Nice to meet you."

"INS?" Maria repeated, frowning.

"Yes." Cole nodded, smiling faintly. "I apprehend… illegal aliens."

Vic bit his lower lip.

"I see. Nice to meet you." Maria smiled at him and took Vic by the arm. "Come on, you. We need to go have a long talk."

"See you later, Cole," Vic called over one shoulder, feeling like a lamb being led to the slaughter.

"Yes, Vic. Good bye, Detective Cruz." Cole smiled and watched them go, shaking his head.

"Vic finally get himself a new girl?" Bridgett asked curiously.

"Looks that way," Cole said, smiling. "I'll be upstairs if you need help."

"Okay. Later."

"Later," he agreed, smiling and going to watch over Mel.

***

"INS, Vicky?" Maria asked, shaking her head as they walked into her house. "You could have saved me a lot of worry…"

"I'd have told you if I could…"

"I know." She sighed and nodded, turning on the TV.

"Military denies any involvement," the announcer on the news was saying. Her hair blew in the slight lake-effect breeze as she stood in a train-yard swarming with people. "Back to Mike in the studio…"

"What the hell?" Maria muttered, frowning and staring at the TV as thought she expected it to answer her.

"Eh, just a training exercise," Vic assured her, smiling and turning off the TV, uncomfortable. "So, we were going to have a long talk?"

"Were we?" she asked, raising an eyebrow and smiling.

"Weren't we?" he asked, smiling back.

"Actually," she said, taking a step towards him, "I think we were going to skip the talking part altogether…"

"Really?" Vic asked, smiling down at her.

"Really." She nodded.

Vic grinned. His week was suddenly going a lot better. "I can handle that," he assured her, wondering if it was about to come down to having to explain his sudden lack of bruising to her. It was sure looking that way. Fast healer?

"You sure about that?" she asked with a grin and a wink. "I'm a lot bigger than Gregory James…"

Vic sighed deeply, shaking his head. "Never going to live that down, am I?"

Maria shook her head. "Not on my watch, Vicky."

The End