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THREE OF A KIND

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THREE OF A KIND

The Sequel To

THOSE LEFT BEHIND

By Victoria Hibbard
(C) 2001




Chapter 1 A New Breed

"May the Good Lord Be With You
down every road you roam
May sunshine and happiness
surround you when you're far from home...
And may you grow to be proud,
dignified and true,
And do unto others as you would have done to you.
Be courageous, and be brave
And in my heart, you'll always stay
Forever Young".

~~ Rod Stewart, Forever Young


Sunday, May 19, 1991


Lynne Bernstein took a wooden spoon and rapped Brandon Watts sharply on the hand
with it.

"I told you to keep your dirty little fingers out of that frosting!" she scolded in a mock,
exasperated tone.

"It just looks so good! Besides, someone has to test it out, and make sure it's not
poisoned," Brandon replied with a smile. His grin revealed a silver flash of the barbell
stud he'd recently had pierced into his tongue.

"Poison, my foot! Why don't you go make yourself useful, and check and see if Abraham
is dressed yet. People will start arriving for his party soon, and I want him to be ready."

She picked up an icing tube and started decorating the sheet cake she had just baked and
finished frosting. Brandon eyed it hungrily.
                                                                                              2



"Your wish is my command...Just be sure that no one eats that corner...the left one that
has the most frosting on it. That's mine!" He gave a mock salute and strode out of the
kitchen to run Lynne's errand.

"Hey, LizardBoy!" Brandon called as he climbed up the stairs, "Your Grandma says that
if you're not dressed yet, I get to eat all your birthday cake!" He stood outside the boy's
bedroom door and cocked his head, waiting for Abraham to answer. There was no reply.
Brandon knocked on the door, sharply. Still nothing.

"Yo, Bram, are you in there?" Brandon asked. After a few more moments passed, he
pushed the door open. Looking around the room, he got a strange feeling that something
was amiss. Abraham's good party clothes; a pair of pressed khaki slacks, a polo shirt, and
brown loafers, were still laid out on the chair next to the bed. There was a peculiar, warm
smell in the air that Brandon couldn't identify if he tried. When he approached the bed, he
heard the wet sound of soaked carpet squishing beneath his combat boots. He looked
down and noticed that the beige carpet was stained with a greenish colored liquid, and he
was standing right in the middle of the puddle.

"What the hell?" he asked himself. The puddle seemed to be coming from under the bed.
Brandon slowly lifted up the bedspread and peered underneath.

"Holy Shit!" he cried, in horror. Beneath the bed was a large, pulsating, green, pod
shaped lump. Fluid oozed from small cracks in the casing. It reminded Brandon of a
scene from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Little Abraham was nowhere to be found.

*********************************************************

Julie Parrish arrived at the Bernstein's residence and parked her car along the curb. She
pulled two wrapped gifts out of the passenger side seat. Both were presents for Abraham,
the world's second known Starchild in existence, who happened to be celebrating his first
birthday. One was from herself, and the other was from Mike Donovan, who had given
his gift to Julie to bring, because his work schedule did not allow him to attend the party.
As Julie started up the walkway with her gifts, two other vehicles pulled up. She
recognized the first as Robin Maxwell's car. Out of it piled Robin, and her two younger
sisters Polly and Katie. Robin's daughter, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's boyfriend, Kyle
Bates, got out of the pick-up truck that parked behind the Datsun. Kyle walked around to
the trunk of Robin's car and started pulling out an avalanche of gifts.

"Jeez, I'm surprised to see you here so soon, Julie," Robin said, "Elizabeth has been
cracking the whip on us to hurry up and get here. We're half an hour early!"

"Elizabeth must be very excited," Julie replied.

"You'd think it was her birthday with the way she's been acting," Polly Maxwell chimed
in, "Did you get a load of all that loot? I think Elizabeth and Kyle bought out the whole
                                                                                              3


mall! I can't wait til it's my birthday!" She flashed a wide grin at Kyle and Elizabeth; their
arms loaded with packages.

"Me too!" Katie chirped, "My birthday is next month. I should get special treatment,
since I'll be 12!"

"Dream on, twerp," Robin teased her littlest sister.

Suddenly, the Bernstein's front door burst open, and Brandon Watts came flying out. He
had swapped his former skin head look for the new rage...the Seattle Grunge look. His
ratty, plaid flannel shirt and Nirvana T shirt beneath it were both soaked with a strange
looking greenish fluid that looked suspiciously of Sirian's blood. Eyes wide with horror,
Brandon made a beeline for Julie, skidding to a halt in front of her, just before he risked
knocking her over.

"Julie! Julie! You've gotta come see! Something really...freaky...happened to Abraham! I
think he's been Body Snatched!" he cried almost hysterically.

"Body Snatched?" Julie echoed. Before she could say anything else, Brandon had her by
the elbow and was towing her up the rest of the walkway. He hustled her through the
house, up the stairs and into the boy's bedroom. Lynne Bernstein stood just inside the
door, wearing a cake batter splattered apron and a look of horror. Her breathing was fast;
close to hyperventilating.

"Oh, Julie..thank Heaven's your here! S-something is wrong with Abraham!" she
stammered helplessly. Her shaking finger was pointing beneath the bed. Julie followed
it's direction with her eyes and saw the edge of what looked to be a pod, peeking out from
underneath.

"Okay, guys, I think I may know what's happening here, but I'll need some help. We need
to move the bed without disturbing the pod somehow, so I can get a better look at this,"
Julie stated.

Brandon took a step forward, and then stopped abruptly.

"I don't have to touch that thing, do I? " he asked.

"No, not if you and I can get the mattresses off the bed," Julie replied with a hint of
annoyance tinging her tone.

"What is that, Julie? What is happening to Abraham?" Lynne asked quietly. She sounded
on the brink of tears and hysteria.

"Lynne, I don't think it's much to worry about. He is probably molting again. Elizabeth
did this too."
                                                                                            4


"Molting? He used to just shed some skin! What's up with this creepy pod stuff?
Like..what's he going to molt into?" Brandon questioned anxiously. Together, he and
Julie tugged the twin sized, top mattress; blankets, pillows, and all, and slid it off to the
side. The box spring went next. The bed rails and attatched headboard stood bare,
framing the pulsating pod, and a small assortment of scattered toys that had rolled
beneath the bed at some point. It looked to Julie as though the boy may have sensed that
something was wrong, and hid under the bed as his metamorphis began. She recalled that
Elizabeth had hid too. Only, Elizabeth had physically run away and hid in a small cave of
rocks. Julie examined the exterior, running her hands along it gently. She felt heat
eminating from it. When she looked closely, she could see a figure inside, undergoing
some sort of transformation. It was a rather grotesque sight, but it was one she was
familliar with.

Though she'd seen it before, Julie couldn't help wishing for the assistance of the late
Robert Maxwell. Not only had he been the grandfather of the world's first hybrid child,
Elizabeth, he had also been a respected anthropologist with a decent amount of
knowledge in biology, a fellow resistance member, and a good personal friend of Julie's.
He'd been with her to witness Elizabeth's transformation, and he'd also worked with Julie
to formulate the Red Dust toxin. In additon, he'd been a good friend of Lynn and Stanley
Bernstein, as he'd been a neighbor of theirs prior to the war. If anyone could put the
Bernsteins at ease and help explain things, it would have been Bob. Sadly, he'd given his
life several years before in an attempt to prevent the Visitor's reinvasion.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's what is happening here. I suggest we go into another room
nearby. That way, we can keep an ear on things, but we can talk privately." she said.

"I should go tell Stanley. I think he just came back from the store. He would be shocked
if he walked in here and saw this," Brandon offered.

"Good idea. Lynne, why don't you and I go into your room? Brandon can bring Stanley
in, and I'll tell you what I think is going to happen."

Minutes later, there was a small meeting of sorts in the Bernstein's master bedroom.
Stanley and Lynne sat on the edge of their bed, eyeing Julie nervously. Off to the side
stood Brandon. The other house guests, upon learning of the crisis, stood clustered just
inside the doorway.

"When Abraham emerges from his cocoon, he may...and I stress may, be much bigger.
He might even look..um..different. I can't tell you for sure. What I am pretty sure about is
that he'll be okay," Julie told them, hoping her voice carried the tone of soothing
confidence that she was wishing she felt.

"Can I go look?" Katie asked. Adventure sparkled in her eyes.

"This isn't some freak show, Katie, this is Abraham, and the answer is no!" Robin
retorted.
                                                                                                 5



"Aw, man!" Katie complained, "How come Elizabeth gets to?"

Julie looked up and noticed that Elizabeth was no longer present in the master bedroom.
At first, she startled, but then she realized that it just may be a good idea for Elizabeth to
stay with Abraham. She said as much to the pouting eleven year old.

"Honey, when Abraham comes out of this, he's going to be confused, and maybe even
frightened. The last thing he'll want is a bunch of people gawking at him," she explained.

"What if he comes out looking more like a lizard?" Polly asked, "Suppose it's possible?"

"Yes," Julie answered, "It is possible. Anything is, really. However, Elizabeth retained
the same human/reptillian features she was born with after her metamorphis, and I
suspect Abraham will too."

"I think some more people just came. Should I let them know that the party is off?" Kyle
asked.

"Well, I don't know. Suppose Abraham...umm...gets upset that we cancelled his party all
on account of this? He's been looking forward to it." Stanley said, "Maybe the rest of the
guests wouldn't mind waiting around. If everyone brought their swimsuits like we
announced in the invitation, they could go swimming."

"And I have plenty of snacks ready..." Lynne said weakly.

"Well, I'm not sure if Abraham will feel up to a party when this is over, but I could be
wrong. If he knew about the party and was looking forward to it, he just might be upset if
everyone was sent away. The trouble is, I'm not sure when he'll finish." Julie said.

As the words died on Julie's lips, Elizabeth called out from the next bedroom over.
Brandon pushed his way out the door, followed by Julie, the Bernsteins, and the rest of
the Maxwells. Elizabeth sat next to the ruptured cocoon, mindless to the brackish goo
wetting her dress. A newly emerged Abraham sat amidst the remains of his pod.
Elizabeth was helping him peel out of a reptillian appearing outer skin, revealing his
usual, primarily human skin tone beneath. Only a few spots of reptillian scaling remained
when they were finished; the ones on his thighs that he'd been born with. The boy's dark
hair was coated with the same kind of slimy substance that was pooling on the floor. His
eyes stared out from the wet mess of his face; contacts gone.

"Well, dude, I don't think these will be fitting you anymore," Brandon said, holding up
the rumpled, size 8 party clothes that had been dumped to the floor when the mattresses
had been moved. Abraham stared at him mutely, shivering slightly. Others amongst them
shivered too: the ones that remembered the Bernstein's late son, Daniel. Though Abraham
was not Daniel's spitting image, the resemblence was close enough for all to know that
Daniel and Abraham were father and son.
                                                                                              6



***************************************************************
The first thing Abraham could comprehend was the sound of Elizabeth's soothing voice,
as she told him that he would be alright. Tattered remnants of the reptilian skin he'd shed
were heaped around him. He felt a little better than he had when he'd first awaken that
morning...

Dawn had just begun to creep over the rooftops, it's first light seeping into his bedroom
window when his eyes had fluttered open. Bram had been excited, because he knew that
it was his birthday, and birthdays were supposed to be special. Katie had told him all
about them when they played video games together. There would be friends over to visit,
balloons, cake, and best of all, presents. As his special day came closer, Grandma had
made a fuss of picking out nice clothing for him to wear for the occasion. Brandon had
promptly negated her choices, telling her that she shouldn't dress him like a "Waldo".
Whatever a "Waldo" was.

The answer came clear as he lay in bed on his day of days, shivering like a wet puppy left
out in the cold. Suddenly, Bram felt like a "Waldo". Every joint in his body ached, his
temples throbbed, and his skin itched. When he scratched at his stomach, he'd been
alarmed to feel a rash pebbling the normally smooth surface of his skin. Hesitantly, he'd
lifted the hem of his pajama top. The sight of it was more alarming than he'd imagined.
His skin was flaking off, and what was beneath was raw looking, and almost scaly in
appearance. To top things off, it seemed to pulse with a life of his own. Frightened, Bram
had wanted to run in and wake up his Grandmother. Then, he thought better of it. In one
year's time, he'd come to know that there were simply some things that neither of his
grandparents felt comfortable discussing. His differences ranked at the top. It seemed to
him that they pretended to themselves that he was a normal little boy. Anything that upset
this carefully created notion upset them. Bram knew the worried looks that would cross
their faces, and the tension lines that would show around their eyes. They never raised
their voices, nor did they ever make negative remarks...they just silently worried. The boy
had no idea what concerned them so much, but it pained him to see them in distress. Only
Elizabeth, his cousin, seemed to understand completely. She was like him. They were the
only two, so Abraham had heard, that were Sirian/Human hybrids. But even Elizabeth,
with all of her wisdom and knowledge, seemed unable to explain why his grandparents
were so troubled about his heritage.

Brandon had a few theories that he'd shared with Bram in secrecy. He'd told him what
little he knew about his father, Daniel. As the story went, his father had been a troubled
child, who'd made friends with the wrong sorts of people, and wound up paying the
ultimate price for his loyalties. His grandparents, Brandon explained, blamed themselves
for what happened, and were afraid that they'd make the same mistakes with Abraham.

"They loved your father," Brandon told him, "and losing him really hurt. Now they've got
you. They love you too, y'know, so it's natural for them to worry about you. Especially
since...well...because you're a Starchild. There's alot that no one knows about you, and so
your grandparents are worried about that too."
                                                                                              7



Well, he certainly wanted to give them nothing more to worry about, even though he was
worried for himself. To his knowledge, he'd never been sick a day in his life. Why today,
of all days?

Bram felt hot, achy, ichy and miserable. Certainly, being sick would spoil the party that
his grandmother was working so hard to make. Having this birthday party seemed to
mean as much to her as it did to him. Forcing himself to sit up, he was hit with a bout of
shivers. No, he didn't want to make his grandparents worry, but he could hear noises
downstairs, which suggested that Brandon might be awake. He knew that Brandon took
Tylenol when he had a cold or a headache, and it would make him feel better. Maybe
Brandon would give him some.

Swinging his feet over the edge of the bed and standing was a task that he quickly learned
that he could not manage. As soon as his feet hit the floor, he collapsed. Every muscle in
his body protested all at once. The joints of his knees and toes felt like they were full of
ground up glass shards. Then, his vision greyed out, and when it returned, he saw one of
his hands splayed out in front of him. There was something wrong with it. The skin was
rippling and bubbling, and it now had the same rash on it that he'd found on his stomach.
Panic welled up in his gut to join the feeling of queesiness that was already there. He was
changing...and he instinctively knew that if his grandparents saw it, they'd be very upset.
No Tylenol from Brandon would help. Nothing would. Maybe he would even die. If he
did, he didn't want his grandparents to find him on his floor, dead. That would really
upset them. He wanted to hide. His closet was clear across the room, but Bram knew he'd
never make it there. Instead, with the last bit of energy he possessed, he scooted himself
under his bed. It was the last thing he remembered before he felt himself floating away
somewhere. He had still been sick and miserable, but at least he wasn't worried about
how his grandparents would react if they found him dead beside his bed.

Now, as he sat amidst the gooey remains of wherever he'd gone, he realized that he was
not dead. Whatever it was that had been happening to him that morning had happened,
and he'd survived. Then, he realized that his grandparents had found him. They stood in
the doorway with Julie and Brandon and...

Elizabeth was here. She was talking to him. As he slowly realized that he'd been out of it
for so long that all of the party guests had arrived, he looked down at himself. Something
was very wrong. That realization was punctated with a strange feeling in his mouth. He
parted his lips, almost as if to speak, and out came his teeth! They clattered to the messy
carpet, some of them landing in his lap. His thighs were bare, as was the rest of him.
There, he found something else different. The greenish patches of scales on the insides of
his thighs were still there, as was everything else, but now...

There was a sparse covering of hair covering his private parts where none had been
before. A small trail of hair continued up his formerly smooth stomach, stopping just
below his belly button. His feet were still attatched to much longer legs, that also had s
slight covering of hair, especially at the calves...and his feet were impossibly big! Then,
                                                                                               8


came a second, horrible realization. Outside the door was clustered a crowd of people,
and they were all staring at him. And he was buck naked!

Almost as if reading his thoughts, Elizabeth reached over to the mattress that had
somehow wound up on the floor, and pulled his blanket out of the mess. She wrapped it
around him comfortingly. Immediately, Abraham felt better. He ran his forked tongue
around the insides of his mouth and learned that despite losing so many of his teeth, he
still had some. In fact, he couldn't feel any gaps to indicate that any were missing. Julie
pushed her way into the bedroom and stooped down beside him. She had her black
medicine bag with her, and from it, she pulled out a stethoscope.

"Hi, sweetie, are you okay?" she asked him kindly, "You've just had a big change. I'm
sure you'll be alright, but I want to examine you first..."

"I'm okay," Bram rasped, and then he stopped abruptly. The voice that had issued forth
from his throat was not his! It was much deeper...like Brandon's. His shocked gaze
wandered from Julie's face to Elizabeth's.

"You've had your adult molt," Elizabeth told him reassuringly, "And now you're big, like
me. It's going to feel very different at first, but I promise you'll get used to it."

Julie removed the stethoscope from his chest, even though that chest no longer looked
like his own. She then wrapped a blood pressure cuff around his arm.

"Wanna take a shower.." Bram muttered to no one in particular. He suddelnly felt very
sticky and slimy. His hair was plastered to his scalp in an odd feeling, uncomfortable
fashion.

"You can, in just a few moments," Julie responded. She finished with his blood pressure.
Then, she took his temperature with a digital, ear canal thermometer. She knew that
regualar oral thermometers were difficult to manage for those with long, forked tongues.

"Everything looks good, honey. Your temperature is normal now, and your vitals are
registering perfect. Do you feel like you could stand?"

Bram nodded dully. Brandon suddenly appeared at his side, and grasped onto one of his
arms to assist him to his feet. Looking down, Abraham quickly wished he was sitting
again. The floor looked so far away now. A lesser wave a dizziness from what he'd
experienced earlier washed over him. Grandma was there now too. Her face was a mask
of worry, but a tinge of relief was beginning to creep into her features.

"Yes, let's get you into the shower, sweetheart. I'll stay in the bathroom with you, in case
you get dizzy. Brandon can loan you some of his clothes until we can get you some of
your own that will fit.."

Bram took a peak under the blanket still wrapped around his shoulders. The contours of
                                                                                             9


his new body were strange; embarrassingly strange. The thought of his grandmother
sitting vigil with him in the bathroom suddenly made his stomach do summersaults.

"No..just walk with me," he stammered in that much deeper voice, "I wanna shower by
myself."

"No," Brandon interjected as he gave Grandma an understanding look, "You're still a bit
shaky and weak. If you want, I'll stay with you and your Grandma can fetch some
clothes."

"Okay...better," Bram sighed, unable to hide the apprehension he still felt.

"Hey, don't worry, Bram. Your equipment looks pretty much the same as mine. It's no big
deal," Brandon told him.

The crowd around the doorway rapidly began to disperse. With Brandon on one side, and
Grandma on the other, they helped him make his way to the bathroom. There, in the
mirror over the sink, he caught a gaze of his new self.

HIs skin was impossibly pale, and his scarlet eyes, unmasked from their contacts, stared
back at him like twin pools of blood. There were dark smudges beneath them. His hair
was sticking up at all angles, with some sort of gummy goo drying it into cakey spikes.
Even beneath the slick mucous, Abraham could see that his hair was at least two shades
darker now than it had been. A fine line of baby thin, brunette hair inched across the top
of his lip; the beginnings of a mustache. Yet, he realized, as he dropped the blanket from
around his shoulders, he still didn't quite look like a man. Not like Brandon, at any rate.
His shoulders were still bony and his arms and legs seemed to be too long for his body.
He was skinny all over, in fact, as though he hadn't eaten in years. As he thought that, his
stomach rumbled alarmingly, in a demanding growl.

"It's okay, dude. You'll fill out. In fact, I'll start you on some weight training with my
hand weights. We'll buff you up in no time."

Brandon's words only eased a little of Abraham's discomfort. His joints still ached, as
though they'd been stretched like a rope in a game of tug of war. Brandon started the
shower for him, and Abraham climbed into the stall. The warm water did miracles to ease
the remnants of pain. Slimy ooze, tinged with green, was sluiced from his hair. It ran
down his longer, leaner body in rivulets. Only when the water ran clear did he begin the
task of shampooing and soaping. Despite the fears from his grandmother and Brandon, he
did not feel weak and shaky anymore. In fact, the shower was doing wonders to restore
his vitality. The continuing complaints issuing forth from his empty stomach finally
drove him to shut off the tap.

A fresh towel was waiting for him, as was a change of clothes. Brandon still sat on the lid
of the toilet, flipping through an issue of The Rolling Stone. Bram dried off and dressed
silently while Brandon politely minded his own business. When he was finished, Brandon
                                                                                            10


gazed up at him, tucking his magazine back into the rack beside the toilet.

"Y'know, there's a bunch of people waiting downstairs to party hardy, if you feel up to
company," he said, in a testing tone of voice.

"I don't know. I suppose I feel okay. It's just that everybody saw me naked..."

"Well, no one ran screaming from the room, so you know it's not too bad. I guess either
me or your Grandpa will have to show you how to shave soon."

"It's embarrassing," Abraham muttered.

"Yeah, well, growing up is kind of freaky, but it's something everyone does. Maybe not
all at once, but...Well, no matter how you feel, it's not really anything to be embarrassed
about. At least you don't have any gross warts, a beer gut, or a hairy ass," Brandon
cracked with a smile.

"Just scales," Bram trailed uncertainly.

"Yeah, well, you've always had those and everyone that saw you in your birthday suit
today already knows you have them. Most of them even took turns changing your diapers
when you were a baby, so chill out. It's no big thing."

"I suppose not," he said as he shuffled out of the bathroom.

"I'll meet you downstairs," he told Brandon.

Alone again, he entered the mess of his bedroom. It looked like a green, slimy tornado
had hit. Wading through the mess of his recent evolution, Abraham made his way to the
small wooden box on his dresser. Nestled inside the box was the case in which his eye
contacts were kept. Holding them up, he suddenly realized that they probably wouldn't fit
anymore. He tried to put one in anyways. Sure enough, it was too snug. Sighing, he
placed the contact back into the case and put the case back in the box. Just as he was
about to shut the lid, the other item in the box picqued his interest. He lifted it out gently,
silently gazing at the soft, luminscent dial on his mother's chrono. The characters that told
the time were in the alien language that he only had the vaguest of understandings of.
That didn't concern him at the moment. In fact, he hardly cared what time it was.

Elizabeth had given this to him months ago. He had tried to wear it then, but the
adjustable metal strap was still too large at it's tightest setting to fasten securely around
his arm when he'd first put it on. Now, when he fastened it to his wrist, he had to loosen
the adjustment. With a sense of awestruck wonder, he realized that it finally fit.

The chrono was one of the few possessions remaining of the mother Bram barely
remembered. He could not recall what she looked like. Only a slightly blurry image
capture that he had gave him any idea of how she'd looked, and that wasn't even a picture
                                                                                           11


of her true appearance. The best he could remember was a vague sense of her presence in
his earliest moments. He remembered feeling her slip away. Yet, as he looked at the
chrono on his wrist, he was suddenly filled with a sense of her being, as if she were right
there in the room with him. Wearing the chrono gave him the same feeling that wearing
his mother's pendant did. The pendant was the one possession of hers that he'd been able
to wear since he'd been old enough to care for it. He'd even been wearing it when he'd
molted, and was still wearing it now. Somehow, it hadn't gotten damaged or lost. Was it
because his mother was watching out for him?

A lump formed in his throat, but it was not from sadness. Instead, it was a feeling of joy.
Whatever could be contained in any of the gift boxes waiting for him to open downstairs
ceased to matter. He'd just received the best birthday gift of all. A feeling of peace settled
over him as he closed the lid of the box. He was no longer concerned about his recent
emergence or the shape and feel of his newly molted body. His mother's chrono finally fit
now, and it was the best feeling Abraham could ever remember having.



Chapter 2 Stirrings



"Maybe it's a sign of weakness
when I don't know what to say.
Maybe I just wouldn't know
what to do with my strength anyway.
Have we become a habit?
Do we distort the facts?
Now there's no looking forward,
now there's no turning back."

~~Pat Benetar, "We Belong"



A moment alone was a moment to treasure. Madeline sat at the desk in
Diana's lab/office, working on a computer program her mother had installed for
Madeline's education. Diana had been called away to respond to some
matter on the bridge. Likely, it had something to do with the presentation Mother was
blathering on about...something about a new Chief Fleet of Security being assigned. Not
that Madeline particularly cared. Without anyone there to watch, she could stop her
tireless schooling, relax, and contemplate life. Or...better yet..

She quickly got up, crossed the room, and turned on the transmission
monitor. After some adjustments, she was able to fine tune into Earth
                                                                                          12


television airwaves. Her favorite soap opera, Days of Our Lives was on. Madeline tuned
in right in time to see a juicy love scene begin between Marlena Evans and John Black.
Excellent. She loved watching love scenes. They explained so much; so much more than
the stagnant lessons she was forced to endure from her Mother. So much passion…so
much...tension...

Feeling a twinge of guilt, she turned off the monitor and returned to
her toils at the computer, rubbing at the contacts concealing her tired,
scarlet eyes. Madeline had spent all morning doing 'assessments'. Her mother
was attempting to find her strengths and weaknesses through a series of
mostly computer generated tests in a variety of subjects. The prior week's battery had
been Mathematics, which Madeline had excelled at. The week before that had been
Tactical Applications, in which she'd also done well. She'd scored 'off the charts' when
performing segments which required her to find her way through computer-generated
mazes or solve problems involving spatial relationships.
Sirian History was merely glossed over, as was Government and Politics. Despite her
successes in those subjects, Madeline fared poorly in Life Sciences, though she did a
trifle better in Physical Sciences, much to her mother's disappointment. Also, though she
was literate in written Sullam Voe, any of her mother's attempts to school Madeline in
written English were met with frustration. Though she could speak it without much
trouble, Madeline found that reading and writing English was a task she made little
progress in. This, of course, was the task her computer program was set to tutor her on.
After five more minutes, Madeline grew weary and bored again. The monitor was too
much of a temptation. Once again, without much thought given to her actions, she slid
from her seat, tiptoed over to the viewscreen and flipped it on. Soon, she'd forgotten her
cares as she became enraptured in the soap opera.

Oh, yes...Now Jack and Jennifer were having a fight. Rather, Jack was
trying to convince Jennifer that he had changed his evil ways, and was wanting her to
come back to him...

Jennifer was so tempted, yet stubborn and steadfast...

Then, the scene changed, back to Marlena and John's passionate love
scene. They were having their moment of surrender in a remote, wooded cabin,
far away from civilization, completely unaware that a kidnapper lurked, waiting for his
chance to steal the lovely Marlena away....

There were footsteps approaching that Madeline could distinguish with
her sensitive, alien's hearing. She reached up to turn off the monitor,
but the door slid open before she could. She was surprised to see the Inspector General,
Phillip, standing in the doorway.

"Hi, Inspector General," she squeaked, awkwardly aware that John and
Marlena were still heavy into their kissing on the monitor behind her.
                                                                                            13


"Hello, Madeline. Where is Diana?" Phillip asked. His eyes flicked up
to the monitor, watching for a moment.

"I was just..." The words were lost, unable to be formed fast enough.

"Watching television, I see. Very well. Is Diana here?"

"No, sir. She went to the bridge. Someone called her up." Madeline
responded. A nervous sigh of relief escaped from her lips as she felt
a flush warm her cheeks. Apparently, Phillip didn't care what she watched.

"What is this?" he asked, with an air of curiosity, his gaze flicking
back to the monitor. Madeline turned her head, looked at the screen, and
noticed that a commercial had replaced the human passions. Now, a fuzzy bear
was raving about the softening abilities of a fabric treatment while tossing a blanket in
the air. It was exactly the sort of thing that Mother would call
mindless, human drivel. Madeline didn't know which was worse to be caught
watching.

"That was not what was on...I was watching John and Marlena. They
just had this horrible fight, and then they were making up. It was really
romantic...he promised to take her up to a cottage in the mountains,
but...Stefano Dimera...he is this bad man in the story...um…he is out to get John, and I
think he wants to do something bad at the cottage. He hired a man to kidnap Marlena..."
she explained in a rush.

"I see then, that you regularly watch this broadcast?" Phillip asked.
The barest hints of an amused smile were tugging at the corners of his
mouth. Madeline did not understand what was so funny. She didn't know how to
answer.

"The truth will be fine, Madeline," Phillip said, the smile
disappearing. He studied the girl before him. Since her hatching from an artificial
gestational incubator a little over a year ago, Madeline had achieved her "adult" molt.
The hybrid, a result of Diana's biological tinkering with her own genetic ova and the
sperm of a human, appeared to be fully grown. Her height was nearly that of her
mother's, and Phillip doubted she'd grow any taller. Madeline's build was similar to
Diana's, as well. From a distance, it was hard to tell the two apart. Up close, though, no
one could be fooled. Madeline's face still retained some of the roundness of youth, and
her eyes held a naive innocence that Phillip highly doubted Diana's ever had. The young
woman wore her hair longer than most female personnel on board the ship. This was
possibly because she was the only one on board whose hair actually grew. Beneath the
surface, differences between mother and daughter were even more startling. The face
Phillip gazed at was the only face Madeline possessed. There were no Sirian features
beneath a human guise, here. Facially, at least, only Madeline's eyes, hidden beneath
green human contacts, gave any hint to her hybrid nature.
                                                                                       14



"The truth is that sometimes I get bored with lessons, so whenever
Mother is busy, I watch television broadcasts. This is a common time for her to be called
away. I watch this show more than others, I think. Except, I
like Touched By An Angel, too. Oh, and that new show, Beverly Hills 90210. I think I
really like that one," she answered candidly, in a voice that suggested she wanted to
appease him and avoid risking any anger. She then gave him a look of pleading. He
could read the desperation in her tone.

"Mother does not know that I do this sometimes. At least, I do not
think she knows. Do you have to tell her?"

"No, Madeline. She does not need to know." Phillip's tone of voice
softened. "So, tell me. What other things do you do in here besides
watch television?"

"Lessons. Lots of lessons. Mother calls them assessments," Madeline
responded, flicking her gaze between Philip and the viewscreen. The
commercials had ended, and she was obviously torn between the discussion and any
action she might miss onscreen. However, the cottage scene had been abandoned in favor
of some happenings at a hospital, which didn't appear to interest her as much.

"These lessons would all be on the computer, I take it?"

"Yes, I think so, except for the ones that require me to write."

She left out the lessons of long ago that had required her to sit still
in a chair, in that chamber that whispered terrible secrets to her and made
her dream horrid dreams about the sorrows and terrors of other people.
Mother had stopped giving her those lessons in favor of these ones.

"Has Diana ever discussed the possibility of training you in any of the
Physical Masteries?"

"What is that?" Madeline asked, effectively answering Philip's
question.

"I see," he responded, "Well, anyone that serves in any Officer's rank
should master one of the several forms of combat training we have. They are
also known as the Physical Masteries. Even if you learn one merely as a form
of self defense, it is not an area of your training that should be ignored."

Madeline perked up, her expression appearing rapt.

"There are several forms?" she asked.
                                                                                       15


"Oh, yes," Philip replied.

"How many do you know?"

"I am trained in four Masteries, and I am considered a Master in two of
them," he explained.

"What does that mean?"

"It means that I have the authority to teach others in two of the four
forms that I that I have been trained in. Only a Master can teach others."

"Do you suppose my mother is a Master in any of the Physical Masteries?"

"I highly doubt it. Your mother did not spend the majority of her life
gearing up for a military career, as I have. To be 'trained' in one of
the Physical Masteries does not mean one has to become a Master. No doubt, your
mother has adequate training in at least one of the Masteries to be commissioned to serve
on this mission. However, it takes a great deal more than just 'adequate training' to
become a Master. This, I could not imagine she would have time to do."

"Well, then, this is probably why she has not included the Physical
Masteries in my training. It is not something she can teach me," Madeline
concluded brightly.

"There are other teachers," Philip stated. He then glanced at the
viewscreen. The action playing now was some sort of a fight between two female vixens
on the show. Their theatrical fight brought back echoes of the discord between Diana and
Lydia that had sounded up and down the corridors not so long ago. It was almost enough
to make him smile...almost. Glancing at his chrono, Philip suddenly realized that he
actually had come here on other business.

"When Diana returns, tell her I was looking for her," Philip said.

"I will," Madeline replied.

As soon as the door slid shut behind the Inspector General's retreating
form, Madeline quickly turned off the viewscreen and resumed her studies as
if there had never been an interruption.
***************************************************************

Diana stalked through the corridor on her way back to her quarters.
The reception crew, preparing for the arrival of the new Fleet Chief of
Security, seemed to be painfully inept. This was a matter that should not have needed her
personal attention, especially since the new officer being assigned was, technically,
below her in rank. Diana sincerely hoped that Phillip didn't plan on having her split
                                                                                        16


command with the new Chief. That was an arrangement that had been barely tolerable
with Lydia, the former Fleet Chief of Security. Diana had no wish to repeat it. She had
been in command on her own, although Phillip still had ultimate power, for just over a
year now. She liked it that way.

To her surprise, Phillip was in the corridor, obviously leaving her quarters.

"I've been looking for you," he stated to her, in what passed for a
civil greeting.

"I had some matters to attend to with the reception crew. They seem to
be having a problem understanding how to do their jobs," Diana replied
tersely.

"Well, this was somewhat unexpected. The Leader has appointed an
interim Security Chief until Lydia can resume her post," Phillip replied.

"Interim? Lydia has been gone for a year. I have heard nothing since
regarding her recovery from that terrible illness...," Diana could
barely hide the smile in her voice, "Has she recovered?"

"Well enough, I suppose. She's been reassigned, temporarily, to oversee
a staff development training course for perspective Security personnel."
Phillip nearly choked on his lie, but he maintained his steely composure. The truth was,
Lydia was in hiding with the Los Angeles Resistance while she
received physical therapy to continue her recovery from the effects of an awful, mutated
virus both she and Phillip had fallen ill with. To this day, no one knew precisely how the
two officers had gotten sick. No one but Diana, that was. She had engineered the
pathogen in her lab and secretly infected them with it.

The "staff development" Phillip had created wasn't a complete lie, at
least, not from a Fifth Column stand point. Lydia was training, but her
students weren't Sirian Military. They were Human Resistance. She was teaching them
about some of the security measures implemented on board the
motherships and at Visitor controlled functions. She was also showing them ways to
bypass these security measures. Phillip was amazed at Lydia's adaptability. Her life on
board the mothership, working along side Diana while covertly cooperating with the Fifth
Column, was precarious to say the least. Now, she was forced to adapt to life on Earth,
with two handicaps, nonetheless. The first was her inability to hear well. The strange
pathogen had damaged her brain, causing her to go deaf. A year's time, constant therapy,
and a hearing aid had restored some of it, but not enough to allow her to return to her
former duties on board the mothership. Phillip doubted she ever would be able to.
Secondly, she was now raising a hatchling. Phillip regretted the fact that he couldn't take
a more active role raising the daughter the two of them had accidentally produced. They
had named their child Emitha in their own language, but her birth home was Earth.
Therefore, she was known as Emily to the humans that she and Lydia lived amongst.
                                                                                           17


Philip wished he had more of an opportunity to watch his hatchling grow and to protect
her, but now more than ever, he had to keep his involvement with the Fifth Column and
Lydia's actual whereabouts a
secret. His contacts with the Resistance and with Lydia were sporadic; as he could only
risk his cover occasionally. Both Lydia's disability and their daughter were grounds for
the military to ship mother and child back to Sirius, where Phillip would see even less of
them. Now that he had a child, Phillip was even more determined to see the Fifth Column
triumph over the Leader. His daughter's future depended on it.

"What were you needing to see me about?" Diana asked in a tone that suggested she had
a thousand, more pressing things to do than to grant her Superior a few moments of her
precious time.

"I looked over the attendance roster that was submitted for tonight's event. It seems that
you've included Madeline, as your laboratory aide, on the list. Since when did I appoint
you a laboratory aide?"

"It's time to begin her introduction into our culture, don't you think?" Diana responded
with a sly tone.

"Apparently, this isn't something you've thought through. Just how do you suppose you'll
integrate a hybrid into day to day Mothership activities without anyone knowing she's a
hybrid? I certainly wouldn't expect that you'd advertise about Madeline's nature..."

"Of course not!" Diana huffed, "And she won't be integrated into day to day
activities...just the ones I deem appropriate. Madeline can't be locked up in a lab all day,
but she will be closely supervised. I plan to make no further mention of her to anyone
other than as my laboratory aide in training."

"I'm not so sure this is the right time-"

"It is the right time. How could it not be? I'll be right there to
head off any complications that may arise."

"How prepared is Madeline for tonight?" Phillip asked, doubt and
indignance still present in his tone, "She's had absolutely no training."

"Prepared enough. She's highly intelligent, and she's a quick study.
I'm sure you've noticed. Her vocabulary is at an appropriate level for her
to converse normally in public situations, and she knows how to behave,"
Diana explained.

Phillip remembered back a few moments, recalling the girl's choice in
television programming. He hoped that kissing and verbal arguments
weren't the only nuances of society that Madeline knew of. However, he knew that those
two behaviors, as well as the arts of backstabbing, scheming, torturing, second-guessing,
                                                                                         18


manipulating and throwing tantrums at the drop of a hat were ones that Diana would be
ideally suited to teach her daughter. She excelled in all of them. He wondered who was
on hand to teach Madeline the finer social graces such as politeness, respect, gratitude,
loyalty and friendship. At least, by watching human television dramas, Madeline would
get a better education than if Diana were the one providing the lessons on these points.

Despite Phillip's reserves, he decided not to argue with Diana any
further on the matter. It would be interesting to see how the girl reacted to the public. He
would, he hoped, learn more about the Starchild's inner workings, like how she thought,
and perhaps what she thought about. It was too soon for him to know if Diana had
corrupted Madeline beyond any redemption. It wasn't, however, too soon for him to
judge weather or not the girl had any sort of conscience. Before he could decide what
Madeline's ultimate destiny would be, he needed to learn more about how her mind
worked. Any opportunity to observe her was one he'd take. But, he refused to give Diana
complete control of the situation.

"There is one thing that I need to discuss with you in regards to
Madeline, especially since you deem it necessary that she start making her public
debut..." Philip started.

Diana, who'd begun to develop a smug expression as if she believed the
subject was over and the debate won to her satisfaction, looked a bit
surprised when Philip made his declaration.

"Oh, and what would that be?" she questioned, crossing her arms over
her chest defensively, and beginning an impatient, tapping, staccato with
the toe of her boot.

"Suppose she were to come under attack? Once she is exposed to public
scrutiny, there is always that possibility...."

" What in the name of Parching Thirst are you driving at? Madeline will
hardly be 'coming under public scrutiny'. She will merely be attending
one dinner party so that I may make some observations about her social maturation
levels."

"What of her physical prowess?" Philip questioned.

"Physical prowess?" Diana echoed.

"Yes, exactly. It is food for thought, Diana. I would certainly hope,
that if you wish for her to keep her hybrid nature under wraps, that she should have to
resort to....unconventional means of defense if someone were to ever attempt to harm her.
That is what I mean. Have you given any
consideration in training her to defend herself using any of the Physical Masteries?"
                                                                                        19


"Now I see where you're going," Diana sighed.

"Do you?" Philip asked.

"You know that I am not venerated in any of the Physical Masteries, and
therefore, I cannot 'officially' train her. Suppose I should ask whom
would be in charge of this training if I chose to further this discussion?"

"Supposing you had a choice, Diana," Philip stated severely, "I,
myself, would take on the responsibility of training Madeline. It would simply be too
risky a proposition to allow anyone else to."

"Is this your little condition?" Diana spat, as the staccato rhythm
that her toe tapping produced reached a fevered pace.

"So it is. Do you not agree that a well-rounded education is in
Madeline's best interest?"

"We shall see. You had just best make certain that any particle swords
you practice with are not charged, or your superior rank will offer you no
protection from me," Diana warned.

With that, Diana completely disregarded any protocol and turned her
back on her superior, stomping into her lab without waiting for Philip to
dismiss her.



***************************************************************

Madeline examined her reflection in the mirror over the wash station in
her mother's lavatory. Her eyes felt thick and sticky due to the "mascara"
Diana had applied to her lashes. Despite Mother's assurances that she looked
"just perfect", Madeline had doubts. She'd never worn makeup before. It
felt heavy and strange. She wondered if her mother noticed the feeling when she put her
own on. After all, Madeline knew that Mother's skin was only a
covering for her true features; the reptilian scaling that everyone else on board the ship
really had. She also knew that she was the only exception. No one was to know this, of
course. Mother had drummed that fact into her head like a mantra.

If only her mother could understand that the hairstyle she'd done
Madeline's hair in pinched her scalp. Different hairstyles were nothing new,
though. Mother was always "fixing" Madeline's hair, almost as though she wished the
hair on her own head was as real as Madeline's. Sometimes, in rare moments, Mother
would allow Madeline the privilege of trying different hairstyles out on her wig for
experimental purposes. Experiments were one thing that Mother was never afraid of.
                                                                                        20


Since her wig could not really be ruined, the two of them tried new things with Mother's
hair all the time. But, while it seemed that Mother spent much of her time wishing for
real human hair, Madeline wished she could look Sirian, like Mother and Phillip. Then
she wouldn't have to worry about how hairstyles and make-up "felt".

"It's almost time," Diana announced from outside the lavatory, "Whatever it is you're
doing in there, hurry it up."

Madeline took one last look in the mirror. Then, she closed her eyes
and pretended, for a moment, that she was Hope from "Days of Our Lives", or
Brenda from "Beverly Hills 90210". When she opened her eyes, she almost saw
someone as glamorous as they were, looking back. It did the trick. She smoothed the
uniform Mother had provided her for the night, and stepped out of the lavatory. As soon
as she saw her mother, freshly "made up", and wearing her white dress uniform,
Madeline's palms began to sweat. She hoped Mother wouldn't notice this human flaw.

"Now, just you remember," Diana cautioned her daughter in her famous
'or else' tone of voice, "Mind yourself. Do not speak unless spoken to.
Stay close by me, and don't you dare fidget. If you do anything stupid..."

"I won't, Mother," Madeline responded, in her own, famous, automatic
tone of voice.
"As long as I'm understood. Let's go."

Diana moved through the corridors at a brisk pace. Madeline felt that
it was hard to keep up with her, when she wanted to look at the things that
she knew existed, but had never seen. Up until this time, she had never been
permitted outside of Diana's private realm. Even the elevator down to the
docking bay was a novelty. She couldn't afford herself any time to gawk at
anything, unless she wanted to invoke Diana's wrath. She kept pace, keeping a few steps
behind her mother at all times. When they reached the docking bay, a small crowd of
lower ranking officers was assembled, awaiting the shuttle that would be bringing the
new Fleet Chief of Security. Instantly, all present stiffly saluted Diana. She scrutinized
each of them in turn, while Madeline took her cue to position herself at the back of the
rank and file. A short moment later, Phillip arrived, and all present, including Diana,
saluted him. Madeline knew from the vibes that she'd picked up that Mother and Phillip
had a blatant distaste for each other. If Mother minded saluting Phillip, it didn't show
tonight, though. She was the perfect example of how to conduct oneself in the presence
of a superior.

A humming noise, accompanied with a deep vibration, filled the air of
the docking bay. Soon, a transport shuttle appeared. It landed, and
Phillip and Mother approached the ship to greet the new arrival. Madeline kept her place
in the back of the reception party. Two guards flanked the new Security Chief, who was
dressed in an immaculate red uniform with gold trim. He appeared to be a somewhat
attractive human male of middle age, with white skin, grey eyes, and salt and pepper hair.
                                                                                         21


His comfort with authority seemed quite apparent, although he did not seem overly high
on himself.

"Welcome, Security Chief Dale, to your new post on the Los Angeles
Mothership," Phillip greeted cordially. The newly arrived officer
snapped a proper salute to the Inspector General.

"I am glad to be of service, Inspector General," Dale replied.

Diana stepped out from around Phillip, and positioned herself in front
of Dale; her shoulders squared and her demeanor imposing.

"I am Diana, Commander of this vessel. We have been absent of a
Security Chief for some time. Working with you should be a...pleasure..." One side of
her mouth curved up in a smile that could look either welcoming or menacing.

"I look forward to serving with you," Dale responded evenly. He didn't
appear to be either put off or intimidated by Diana's greeting.

"We have a small reception prepared for you in the Banquet Hall, to
welcome you. Please follow us," Phillip told Dale, "We will introduce you to
some of the officers you'll be working most closely with."

Diana called the assembly of officers at ease, and all proceeded to the
Banquet Hall. Madeline kept to the rear of the processional, as her
mother had dictated before hand. Once inside the hall, Madeline was almost
overwhelmed. She had, judging from her mother's prior discussion, envisioned a "small
reception". If small was nothing less than a feast for fifty hungry
Sirian officers, then what was a large reception? Tables were grouped, with settings for
several at each one. The largest, most elaborately decorated table was where Phillip,
Mother, Dale, a couple of other higher ranking officers, and she herself would be sitting.
Rich, red cloths with black trim were draped over serving tables. Some of the tables
contained selections of fresh Earth produce, fit for Sirian consumption. Many of the
planet's agricultural offerings were considered delicacies. Other tables were laden with
cages; the small animals inside cowering and squeaking in fright inside them. Then there
were tables offering delights of the insect variety. Water was in abundance; full pitchers
of it placed everywhere for the convenience of the diners. The lights were dim, to suit a
Sirian's comfort level, and musical compositions from the Sirian Homeworld played
softly in the background. Everyone seated themselves at their respective tables, and the
wait staff began to circulate, taking orders. Madeline seated herself to the left of her
mother, as she'd been told to do. There was no one else seated to her right. Phillip sat on
Mother's right, with Dale next to him. Across from them sat four other officers, none of
whom Madeline knew the names of. One of them, a young man wearing a uniform that
denoted that he would be serving as Dale's new direct subordinate, looked across the
table at her quizzically. Philip began a round of introductions that would acquaint Dale
with those seated with him.
                                                                                            22



"This is Orlando. He is in charge of Gurard and Escort Support
Services." Phillip indicated a man of tall stature, with tan looking skin, deep brown eye
contacts, and wavy black hair.

"Yes, Orlando and I were acquainted while I was posted in Recruit
Command at Rendezvous Station awhile back, and he was sent to recuperate from an
injury received in the line of duty. How have you recovered?" Dale inquired.

"I'm doing well," Orlando replied, "Good to see you again."

The woman seated beside Orlando was introduced as Jacqueline, in charge
of Communications Security. The next introduced was a man addressed as
Scott. Scott was Jacqueline's assistant. Then, Phillip introduced the man
seated directly across from Madeline as Nigel. He would be Dale's assistant.

"This is Madeline," he announced, "She has um...recently been assigned
to us as Diana's Science Office Assistant. We've invited her at our table
tonight, since she, like you, is a new arrival," Phillip stated.

Dale had to lean over the table, and Madeline likewise, to note each
other. He smiled a polite greeting to her, and she reciprocated; imitating his gesture.
With the introductions at the table complete, the wait staff
approached, bearing heavily laden trays. Each diner was permitted to select
whatever they wished to eat from the offerings. Madeline helped herself to fresh
vegetables and fruit, eager to sample her favorite amongst them; sliced kiwi. She also
chose several of her favorite insects, placing them in the lidded bowl to prevent their
escape while she ate her produce. Mother selected her menu in a similar fashion,
purposely echoing, but not exactly copying, Madeline's choices. The others at the table
helped themselves to produce and insects too, but they also selected from the variety of
fresh prey offered. For a few minutes, there was little in the way of conversation. Then,
second helpings were offered to those that wished them. Madeline refrained, as did
Diana.

"You mustn't be very hungry," Nigel said to Madeline from across the table, "You've
hardly eaten."

"We had a late lunch," Diana interjected purposely.

"You should try these gerbils," Nigel continued in a cordial way, "They
are quite delicious." For emphasis, he selected a second rodent, and
holding it by its tail, he lowered it head first down his throat. His throat bulged for a
moment as the gerbil made it's way down to his stomach.

"No, I would if I hadn't eaten just," Madeline replied. She winced at
her grammatical error. At the same time, she felt Mother direct an icy
                                                                                           23


stare at her. Nigel, on the other hand, smiled warmly.

"Ah, you must be very new. How long have you been here on Earth?" he
asked. Madeline wasn't sure how to answer. Instead, she found herself
transfixed by Nigel's handsome human guise. His gaze was kind, and she liked the
smooth inflections of his voice.

"She's only been here for a few weeks," Diana responded on Madeline's
behalf, "I'm conducting some tests of a highly important nature, and I needed a trained
assistant. Madeline is quite knowledgeable in matters
regarding Science, even if her language skills are lacking." Her tone was close to
abrasive, as if she were either annoyed at Madeline's ligusitic incompetence, or Nigel's
curiosity.

"Ah, yes, you mustn't have the opportunity to practice if you spend all
day locked in a lab," Nigel responded, awarding Madeline with another
smile. He then flicked an almost imperceptible gaze at Diana, who glared back at him
without restraint. Madeline was sensing that Nigel was another person that Mother did
not like. She wondered why. She hardly knew him, and she liked him already.

"I work most of the time, and I do not talk to anyone much," Madeline
stated honestly. She was aware that not only was her mother judging her
responses, but Phillip seemed to be as well.

"That is quite a shame," Nigel said, "You should get out more and get
to know others. It is a great way to learn the language." His eyes never left hers as he
told this to her, and Madeline felt her cheeks warming in that flawed human way.
Fortunately, the lighting was too dim for him to notice.

"Yes…I, I should," she stammered in a soft reply.

"Unfortunately, there won't be much time for Madeline to socialize. We
are under a tight schedule," Diana intruded. Nigel rolled his contacts
skyward and sighed.

"That is a shame," he intimated, "I would like to show you around, but
it seems that you are very busy."

"Yes...very busy," Madeline echoed. She was unable to hide the
mournful inflections in her voice, "I am very unfortunately busy."
                                                                                          24


Chapter 3 Halfway to Rachel

"We held the day
in the palm of our hands.
They ruled the night.
And the night
Seemed to last as long as six weeks..."

~~Billy Joel Goodnight, Saigon




After a day traveling through the desert in the wilting heat, some of
the more rough and tumble members of the Resistance didn't feel so tough
anymore. Maggie Blodgett, Chris Faber, Brandon Watts, Kyle Bates, Kim Chang, and
Tonya Follows were crammed into the back of the hot, seemingly airless van, with
weapons, observation equipment, and an ominous looking, bright orange, sealed bag.
They dripped sweat and muttered curses as the van lurched over potholes on the ill
maintained roads. At the end of May, the daytime temperatures hovered around the 100
degree mark. Heat rose from the asphalt in visible, wavery patterns of vapor. Those in
the back of the van didn't have to see it to be able to feel it, as the heat was seemingly
sucked up from the road and transferred through the floor of the van, into every fiber of
the traveler's pores.

If the situation was any better or worse in the front portion of the
van, neither passenger riding there made mention of it. Windows on both
sides were rolled down to allow maximum airflow to the rest of the vehicle, but the air
passing through was almost as arid and stale as what was circulating in the back of the
van. The hot sun glared through the dusty windshield, sparing neither eyes nor skin from
its harsh cast. Ham Tyler squinted through the mess of sandy residue and dead bugs on
the windshield, and drove without comment. Despite the heat, he wore his trademark
black leather jacket, as though it were some sort of talisman. It was all the way unzipped,
however, and the white T-shirt he wore beneath it was damp with perspiration. He would
never say so to anyone, but he was just as tired, hot, and miserable as anyone else. It
wasn't lost on him that the passenger riding beside him looked as fresh as the coolest of
ocean breezes. Lizards didn't sweat. At least, their psuedo human skins didn't. Their
fake faces didn't flush from the heat, and their hair didn't stick to their skulls in sweaty,
oily masses of tangles. If Ham Tyler's demeanor had never been pleasant, seeing Lydia
looking cool and collected beside him only served to curdle his mood even more. The
only consolation he had was knowing that her human suit had to be a hot torture worse
than the fires of hell to wear in this inferno. If that were so, she made no complaint.

Lydia glanced out the rear view mirror mounted on her side of the van
and noted that the Jeep was still behind them. It only had two living
                                                                                          25


passengers; Mike Donovan, and Willie. The Jeep carried the remainder of their
cargo; some of Donovan's video and sound recording equipment from his news reporting
days of old, a small sonic device for measuring underground activity, night vision
goggles, extra rations of gasoline, tools for minor mechanical repair of damaged vehicles,
a 5 gallon can of water for radiators, a small supply of food and water for the travelers,
and a first aid kit.

"Here's where you should pull off the road," Lydia told Ham. Her
British sounding accent was as crisp as an autumn day in Jolly ole England,
despite the hellish heat. Tyler flicked a glance in her direction that contained a hint of
frustrated annoyance. Lydia held her arm out of her window and made a motion for the
travelers in the Jeep to follow them.

The van was ill-equipped for off road travel, but it was the only
vehicle large enough to transport everyone. Ham gritted his teeth as he
swerved off the road. Once, he supposed, a path may have been leveled through the sand,
but nature had since reclaimed most of it. Or, it had intentionally been covered back up
once it had served its purpose. Whatever the case, he had to slow to a crawling speed and
drive like a blind granny. The churning of the tires swirled dust in front of the
windshield, making visibility all the harder. He didn't suppose Gooder and Willie were
getting it any better, following behind in Willie's open topped Jeep, getting their mouths
and noses filled with the desert's gritty offerings. The two vehicles traversed the difficult
terrain for another hour before Lydia motioned for Tyler to stop.

"Are we there yet?" Tonya moaned from the rear of the van, "I really
gotta go!"

"Yeah, she's been bitching about needing to drain the main vein for an
hour now. I gotta go too," Brandon wisecracked.

Ham wordlessly regarded the occupants in the back before turning to Lydia.

"You tell me, Oh, Wise One. Are we there yet?" he asked her.

Lydia fidgeted with the device planted just inside her ear canal.

"Yes, I think so."

The Jeep pulled up alongside the van, as the van rapidly emptied itself
of its compliment of passengers. Women wandered off to one side, the men
to the opposite. It had been a long trip. Mike and Willie hopped out of the
Jeep and followed the guys, the same thing on their minds.

Lydia strode back to the van as soon as she finished relieving herself,
and pulled out a set of high powered binoculars. She focused them and
                                                                                         26


scanned the barren desert landscape. Nothing stirred. No birds flew overhead, no small
animals rustled through the dry husks of the scrub bushes. She sampled the air by
flicking her slender, forked tongue, testing for any scent carried on the breeze that might
inform her that they had reached their destination. Almost immediately, she picked it up.
It was the smell of blood and violent death. It seemed to emanate from the sand, filling
the olfactory glands on her tongue with decay. This was an appalling smell to a Sirian.
They ate live or freshly killed prey, not half-rotted carrion. Even cleanly wrapped
packages of meat sold in grocery stores for humans to cook and consume smelled
unpleasant to Lydia. She would only eat it, and raw only, if she was desperate.

Lydia's keenly honed hunter's senses told her that they were all in the
right spot. She had learned of crivit breeding programs during her service
on board the mothership. Now she had found a suspected hunting grounds
for the sand dwelling, carnivorous creatures that were native to her Homeworld. It
smelled alot like the execution tank Diana had, stocked with two vicious crivits, on board
the Los Angeles Mothership.

Ham, Kyle, Mike and Willie approached Lydia's stock still form. The
sand muted the approach of their footfalls. Despite the fact that her back
was turned to them, and her hearing was compromised, she turned quickly and
regarded them long before they reached her. Ham could almost see a reptile's
crafty hunger in her eyes, despite the fact that she wore both her blue colored human
contacts and a pair of dark tinted sunglasses. He and Willie were the only two that were
not surprised at her sudden attention. Willie, despite his gentle and kind featured human
guise, was a lizard, just like Lydia. As for Lydia's seeming inability to hear their
approach...Ham couldn't remember, but he thought he'd read somewhere that snakes
didn't actually have organs that served as ears. What "ears" they had actually registered
vibrations, not sounds. He wasn't sure, but it wouldn't surprise him.

"Is this the place?" Mike asked warily, surveying a computer generated
map from EcoSound that Julie had provided for the expedition.

"I believe so," Lydia replied, completely disregarding the map.

Willie turned his head away from his human companions and sampled the
air in the same fashion Lydia had moments before. He nodded his affirmation.

"I think she's right," he solemnly agreed. His experience with crivits
was not as honed as Lydia's. Willie had never seen or smelled the crivits
Diana kept. He'd never been present at an actual crivit hunting and breeding
ground, either. However, he'd learned much about them in his compulsory
education, as all native Sirian schoolchildren did. He had been warned what to look for,
in case he should ever find himself in unfamiliar territory on the sands of his Homeworld.
His grandfather had even told Willie, his siblings, and his younger cousin tales of his
"crivit wrangling" days, when he and other brave hunters of the day baited, wrestled, and
captured crivits for both trophy and distinction.
                                                                                            27



Maggie, Chris, Tonya, Kim and Brandon approached the group, unsure of
their next course of action.

"Okay, so we're here. Now what?" Chris grumbled. His Harley Davidson
T-shirt clung unflatteringly to his bulky form, and his face was reddened
from the heat. An assortment of weapons were slung by their straps over his
shoulders, ready for business.

"Yeah, what next?" Brandon asked, equally as impatient.

"We wait ‘til dusk," Lydia answered, judging the humans' apprehension by
the expressions on their faces. "Crivits hate the bloody heat as much as we
do. They are more active when it cools."

"Are we smack in the middle of their hunting grounds?" Tonya asked,
chewing her lip nervously.

"At the moment, yes, but we won't be. We just need to lay down some
sensors. Then we will move a ways back."

"If we know the crivits are here, what's the point in putting down
sensors?" Maggie asked, curiously.

"So that we can get an idea of how many are here. Then, we come back
another time and do it again. It will tell us if the number has increased. If so, then we
know they can successfully breed on Earth," Willie responded.

"At least, that's what the researches at EcoSound are hoping..." Mike added.

"Crivits typically breed just as the warm season starts...like in early
spring here. Then, in the fall, their eggs hatch. We will come back
in the fall and see what sort of numbers we get," Lydia added.

"How are we gonna attract them if we're not on the actual site?"
Brandon asked, his eyebrow arched suspiciously. "How will we get them to move
around, so the sensors can detect them?"

"How do you attract sharks in the ocean?" Ham asked in the way of a
reply," You chum the water." He jerked his thumb in the direction of the van. "We got
our own supply of chum in a bag, in the back of the van. We'll lay it down here just
before we leave, and blast it to kingdom come from our safe little hidey hole when it gets
dark." With that, he patted a Visitor's
firearm, strapped to his leg. There were more than a few disgusted grimaces from those
that were only now realizing what they had been sharing space with in the rear of the van,
sealed up tightly in that bio-hazard orange bag.
                                                                                         28



"Should be better than a drive in movie," Chris grunted.

"Whatever you do, try not to shoot any crivits unless you must. We
need to get a good count, and we cannot get one if they die," Willie warned.

"What happens if the crivits eat or destroy the sensors?" Kim
questioned. She directed her inquiry to Lydia.

"We may lose some that way," she responded, "So that is why we brought
so many. All we need is a few still running when this is over, tomorrow
morning."

Willie walked to the Jeep, and returned with a case full of the palm
sized sensors. This little bit of technology was one of the few actual gifts
bestowed upon humanity that the Visitors had presented, although it hadn't been
intentional. Crafty humans, during the course of the Visitor's
occupation, had stolen various devices commonly used by the Visitors. Then, they had
taken some of them apart, studied them, and remanufactured them into different gidgets
and gadgets to distribute on the market for various reasons convenient to humans. While
Julie had supplied the majority of them from the stores of what had been developed at
EcoSound, Chris Faber had obtained a few more of them from contacts he didn't speak of
in exchange for goods he didn't talk about.

"Let's get a move on," Ham stated. He grabbed sensors out of the case
and began distributing them amongst the others in the group. Each had at
least three. They were instructed to step lightly and "place" the sensors,
not "drop" or "throw" them into the sand, without burying them. No sensor was to be
placed too closely to another, to allow for maximum coverage of the
area. All of them set out in differing directions, walking as though they were tiptoeing
amidst a field of landmines. Though the crivits were supposed to be at rest during the
heat of the day, no one wanted to disturb their slumber and attract their attention. Too
much motion might do that, so Lydia had warned. Crivits hunted by sensing vibrations
on the sand above their nests, and by smell. They were attracted, like the sharks native to
Earth's oceans, to the scent of freshly spilled blood.

Once the sensors were laid in the sand, the group met back at the parked
vehicles.

"Tell me again why we're even bothering with this..." Tonya stated,
her eyes scanning the crivit's supposed hunting ground.

"We know that crivits were bred in captivity and harvested for use in
guarding prison camps and sensitive Earth based installations. This
site is not far from a military base that was taken over...and later abandoned," Lydia
explained.
                                                                                              29



"Well, that we know. You told us before," Kim said, "And when the base
was abandoned by the Visitors, the crivits were left behind."

"Right. What we need to know is if they've bred. Are they capable of
breeding off of Sirius IV or out of captivity? They are notoriously
difficult to breed in hatcheries...they prefer migratory breeding grounds. I'm hoping they
decide they can't breed here, since they can't find their instinctual breeding habitat."

"What I'd like to know is why it can't be done in a crop
duster...y'know...arial style," Maggie grumbled, scanning the horizon
warily.

"I thought about that too," Lydia replied, "But it is not exact enough.
Not for finding the actual breeding ground, at any rate. Once we find it, I
suppose it can be mapped, and if any future missions here are needed, they can be done
by air."

"Why is this so important, anyway?" Brandon questioned. "No one ever
comes out to the desert very much. There's tons of other predators out here
to kill you too, so what difference would a couple of crivits make?"

"Well, it makes a big difference for those who like to dirt bike in the
desert," Kyle stated.

"Imagine if it was learned they could breed on Earth, with no expensive
and possibly fruitless interventions? They could be harvested, introduced
to every desert in the world...and every beach...Don't you see how difficult it would be
for a resistance effort to stop the Motherships from taking water
from the oceans if the beaches were teeming with packs of self populating
crivits?"

"Not to mention," Mike added, "Julie's company is interested in what's
going on out here. She tells me that they have to conduct regular tests on
beaches, in deserts, and all sorts of places, to measure the effects of the red dust on the
environment. Gathering samples could get kind of hairy if the researchers get eaten. I
guess there was some sort of trouble in the
Piedmont Mountains when a team went to collect a red dust viability sample..."

"The Piedmont Mountains are in North Carolina. Hard clay soil, not
sand. What were crivits doing there?" Kim asked.

Mike shrugged nervously. Anything he knew on that particular topic was
mostly rumor.

"There was a breeding experiment there some time ago," Lydia answered,
                                                                                          30


stating the obvious, "and also a prison camp. They treated the soil to
make it looser and more tolerable to crivits. Though they had some success
using the crivits to guard the camp there, the rest of the experiment went bust. Official
reports say that the crivits did not take to the area. However, there were also indications
that the local resistance in the area had something to do with the experiment's failure. At
any rate, the camp was destroyed, and all the crivits along with it."

Chris listened to the conversation, shifting his gum around in his
mouth without a comment. He was the only one of the group that had any idea
what had gone down in North Carolina. He and a few other independent types had gotten
an S.O.S. from the resistance in the area back in the earlier days after the second re-
invasion. At that point in time, he'd only partially rejoined the Los Angeles group. Other
times, he'd traveled to other groups, helping to keep up the flow of information through
the Network. Despite the aid he'd rendered, he hadn't come out of it knowing anything
particularly useful about crivits, other than the fact that they were nasty. His mission
hadn't been of a scientific nature.

"Suppose they can breed here," Chris interjected, quickly changing the
subject, "How do we keep Diana and her scaly cronies from turning our
beaches into a sunbather smorgasbord?"

"We will be prepared," Willie responded, "Crivits are native to our
world. They breed in their grounds and then move to the desert areas and along the
coastlines. We have made ways to um...keep them from taking over.
Like...bait for the beaches. We have a crivit propellant.."

"I think you mean, crivit repellant, Willie," Maggie said with a smile.

"Yes. That. A repellent. They cannot hunt in areas treated with the
repellent."

"So we wash the beaches with this repellant and the crivits stay away?"
Kyle asked.

"Yes. They won't um...migrate...to treated areas."

"But, according to Julie, EcoSound has a few theories on Crivit
Repellant, too. What works on Sirius could be poison to our ecology, so we can't dump
anything if we find a breeding ground until it's been tested," Mike said. He rolled his
eyes at the notion of sounding like an ecology professor, but he was perhaps the only one
in the group that knew how important this research was to Julie. He was also the only
one that was acutely aware of Julie's persistent guilt over having created the red dust that
drove the Visitors away from areas above the frost line...but damaged the Earth's ecology
in the process.

Ham rolled his eyes in unison and made a show of checking his watch.
                                                                                       31



"It's getting late. Let's get the show on the road," he grunted.

"Yeah, why don't you go ahead and lay out the bag of chum," Mike
suggested.

"That honor is all yours, Gooder..."

Despite their bantering, they knew it would take the both of them to
carry the large, securely sealed bag of butcher shop cast offs to the center
of what they believed to be the crivit's main dining hall. Together, they
gingerly laid it in the sand, and hoped they'd get back to the vehicles before the
carnivores smelled their free lunch offering. Their luck held. When they returned,
everyone piled into the vehicles and retreated approximately one mile back in the
direction they'd come from. The sun was beginning to set as they made a small
encampment. As the harsh glare of daylight retreated into the shadows of dusk, a stiff
breeze began to blow. The temperature began a steady drop. An hour later, the formerly
sun-baked and overheated travelers felt a bit of a chill. Denim jackets, sweatshirts, and
Chris's Army fatigue coat were pulled from the van's interior. So too were binoculars,
flashlights, night vision goggles, food and drinks. Lydia went behind a scrub bush and
caught herself a small, wriggling, four legged snack.

"Ah, gross!" Brandon commented, catching sight of a tail, momentarily
dangling, from Lydia's mouth. Most of the others, Ham Tyler included,
made grimaces and averted their gazes. Only Willie looked unfazed, despite the fact that
everyone knew what Visitors ate by now. Kim Chang only looked curious.

"Does your food...well, when you swallow it whole, do you taste it?"
she inquired. Lydia was unable to hear the genuine curiosity in her tone,
but the young woman's face bore a matching expression. The question was not
meant as an insult.

"Um, no, not really. Not like you do, I do not think. We 'taste" more
by smelling, I guess," she replied as honestly as she could.

"So, I guess if we don't want the lizards to eat us, we shouldn't bathe
for a year," Brandon chuckled.

"No, not like that. It is a...warmish sort of scent that attracts us
to our prey," Lydia stated matter of factly. She was oblivious to the
shudders her comment caused in most of those around her.

"What about the hairs, man? I can't stand it when I find hairs in my
food," Tonya said, "How do you deal with the mousy hairs? I mean..do they get stuck in
your teeth?"
                                                                                           32


Lydia started to laugh. Mike and Ham eyed each other with surprise.
With all the experience they had in knowing Sirians, they had never heard
one all out laugh like a human.


"Of course...but we just pick them out of our teeth, like you do, I
imagine," she responded when her outburst quieted.

A few in the group wondered, but did not dare ask aloud, if Lydia knew
what humans tasted like.

"Well, I say it's time to shoot the chum and watch the show," Chris
stated, munching nonchalantly from a bag of Cheetos. The sun had since
disappeared below the horizon. An eerie silence invaded the air between bouts of
conversation. Darkness only made them realize how isolated they were. They had left
the town of Barstow far behind them in their search for the crivit's hunting grounds. Most
other towns in the surrounding areas were one horse stops, long abandoned. The next
populated town of any size, Rachel, Nevada, was equidistant to them as Barstow was
behind them. Literally speaking, they were smack in the middle of nowhere.

"So...you say that the Lizards took over a military base in the area
and later abandoned it. Why?" Brandon asked, a look of suspicion crossing
his features. He took a pair of binoculars and pointed them toward the
heavens, briefly scanning the night sky.

"I am not really certain," Lydia responded, "but I think it was deemed
impractical."

"Yeah…suppose the base they commandeered was really the one in Area
51?" Brandon countered.

Chris Faber snorted a little too loudly.

"Don't tell me you're into that Roswell hogwash," he chuckled.

"Who says it's hogwash? The Visitors came from outer space, didn't
they? What's to say that someone else didn't crash here first?" Maggie said. She rarely
had reason to argue with her boyfriend, but she had always
believed that the government was hiding something in regards to the secret military
installation in Area 51.

Chris declined to comment.

"It would jive," Mike stated, "Area 51 isn't horribly far from here....Or at least, what used
to be Area 51."
                                                                                        33


"Suppose the Visitors found what our government had been hiding...those
dead...um...what were they called?" Brandon asked.

"Reticulans, I think," Maggie responded, "The little grey guys with
bald heads and big black eyes."

"Reticulans, reptiles, who gives a rip," Ham retorted, unstrapping his
sidearm," Even if there was a couple of freeze dried, dead spacemen in
Area 51, why would that spook the scalies?"

"I do not know anything much about what happened at this particular
base, and I do not know of this Area 51 you speak of," Lydia responded. Her
voice held a hesitance that made Mike wonder if she was lying.

"Oh, really?" he asked.

"But, I do know of the race of aliens you speak of. I hope you are
wrong. I hope they did not crash here." She realized that her words were
pointless. If the humans knew about the Reticulans, then obviously, the Reticulans had
made themselves known to them in one way or another. She hoped it was a cosmic
accident, and nothing more. Though she herself had never encountered a Reticulan, she'd
heard horror stories of them. She hoped she never would encounter one. There was
much to fear of a race of sentient beings that kept their actions and intents shrouded in
mystery. All Lydia knew of them were that they were a highly evolved race, and their
technology seemingly even surpassed the Sirian's. No one knew exactly where they
hailed from, nor did anyone really know why they traveled away from their home. Prior
to the development of space travel, Sirian lore had told of a race of bald, translucent
skinned, almond eyed aliens who'd been sighted from time to time. Supposedly, they had
abducted isolated Sirians, taken them aboard their ships, studied them, and performed
invasive tests upon them. Most of those tales had been discounted as fiction, until Sirians
had the technology to travel distances in space themselves. There had been a few
documented encounters since then with this mysterious alien race told of so long ago.
However, little more was known about them.

"Well, enough of this National Enquirer gobbeldygook. I'm ready to
go," Ham stated. Willie tossed him the keys to the Jeep, and Ham and Kim
climbed in. She had been chosen to accompany Ham on this particular task because she
had proved to be quite good at shooting targets from a distance, at night. Ham started the
Jeep and slowly drove forward, toward the hunting grounds. He inched his way along
until they were several yards away from where they'd laid the sensors. Then, he killed
the motor. The headlights still burned, permitting Kim to barely make out the shape of
the bright orange plastic bag of chum. She tested out the sights of several weapons that
had a range far enough to hit the desired target from the distance they were parked at.
While she did this, Ham trained a pair of night vision goggles on the target. Finally, she
made her gun selection, lined up her sights, and fired into the night. Ham saw the bag of
chum explode. She'd hit it dead on.
                                                                                         34



"Good job," he hissed softly to her as she lowered herself into her
seat.

Suddenly, the ground beneath the Jeep began to rumble, as if an
earthquake was starting. A stench permeated the air at the same moment. Both knew that
the smell was not coming from the ruptured bag of chum. From this
distance, they wouldn't be able to smell it yet. The crivits, however, could. Beneath the
sand, they converged upon the offering. Eerie howls and fearsome snarls carried on the
wind. Ham wasted no time starting the engine. He backed away from the feeding frenzy.
Before he could get too far, the Jeep started to sway and rock violently, seemingly on it's
own accord. Something knew they were there.

"Son of a bitch," he muttered, flooring the pedal. The wheels churned
up the sand, throwing it in every direction. The Jeep lurched forward. Kim
watched in horror as the sand on the desert floor, illuminated by the
headlights, appeared to ripple. Then, there was a loud popping noise. Ham lost control
of the Jeep. One of the front tires had been punctured. A new string of curses erupted
from his lips as he fought to bring the injured vehicle back under his control. He had just
succeeded in doing so when the sand sprang to life beside the Jeep. A whirlwind,
growling force butted hard against the driver's side. The Jeep lost traction with the sand,
and pitched over, on it's side. Kim was pinned in the passenger's seat, and the horror of
what was happening hadn't even hit her yet when she felt a tugging on one of her legs. A
long, ropy tentacle wrapped itself around her thigh and began to tug on it, pulling her
downwards. Then came a sharp flare of pain, worse than anything she'd ever known in
her life. Her leg was clamped tightly between a pair of unseen jaws. At the same time,
the crivit was trying to drag her beneath the surface. She screamed, desperately clawing,
with both hands, at anything she could grab hold of.

Ham was quick to react. He knew something had a hold of Kim. He could
see another tentacle snaking around, trying to find something to wrap
itself around. Ham shot it without aiming, only instinctively aware of how close he'd
come to shooting Kim. Hoisting himself precariously on the upended driver's side, he
grabbed a hold of the stricken girl and tugged with all of his might. The creature did not
want to relinquish it's hold on it's prey. Kim slipped an inch lower, despite Ham's efforts.
He realized that the crivit was stronger than he was. But, crivits didn't have guns.
Maintaining a tight, one armed hold on the girl, he grabbed for his pilfered Visitor's side
arm again and fired it into the sand. Two more shots got the message across. Suddenly,
the tentacle around her thigh released its tether and Kim was freed. Ham hauled her up to
him, realizing in horror that most of her leg was gone. Blood spewed copiously from the
ragged remains. The ground beneath the Jeep stirred. The crivits were still hungry for
Kim's blood, and Ham's firepower had only managed to convey his dangerous message to
one in the pack. There was nowhere to run.

Salvation appeared on the horizon. Those watching with night vision
goggles and high powered binoculars from a safe distance had witnessed the
                                                                                         35


entire event, and they had sprung into motion as soon as they knew there was
trouble. The van's white, hulking shape emerged from the darkness. Ham Tyler knew
what he had to do. There was no way he wanted the van any closer to the
carnage, where it might get damaged too, or others might get hurt. Hoping that the crivits
were distracted over Kim's spilled blood, he hoisted the nearly unconscious woman over
his shoulder in a fireman's carry, jumped down from his perch, and tore off towards the
van. He ran, firing the laser weapon at anything that disturbed the sand nearby. The van
met him halfway. Ham
unceremoniously tossed Kim into the opened rear door, and threw himself in after her.
The van continued its course, swerving at whatever it's driver deemed dangerous. Ham
pulled Kim's small form into his arms to prevent her from being thrown from the
careening vehicle. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the van resumed a steady
course, leaving the nightmare of the hunting area behind. Ham glanced down at Kim to
check her over. Her deep brown eyes were glazed with shock. One last breath shuddered
from her body before she died in his arms.

***************************************************************

Despite losing Kim, the job had to be finished. However, plans
changed. Everyone went back to Los Angeles in the van. Most of the humans and Lydia
stayed behind to take care of arrangements for their fallen companion. Willie and Mike
immediately returned to the desert, this time in Mike's blazer. It was past noon on the
next day before they were able to retrieve some of the sensors they'd laid in the sand the
previous night. There were no signs of the horrors that had befallen the lost member of
their group. All was as quiet, on the surface, as it had been twenty four hours ago.
Neither of them wasted any time doing the task on hand. They didn't want to be around
when night fell.

The lights of Los Angeles were a welcome sight. It was dusk when they
returned. Mike dropped Willie off at the small duplex that he and his
wife Thelma rented, and headed home himself. In the morning, he would give the
retrieved sensors to Julie for testing at EcoSound.

Willie was dejected and exhausted. He had come to love humans as he
loved his own kind, and Kim's loss had been difficult to witness. Riding in
the back of a van with her lifeless body, wrapped up in the jackets of the
others, while the humans shed their tears had caused him a sorrow he had no
tears to express. The two who had known Kim the best, Brandon and Tonya, seemed
inconsolable. Ham Tyler hadn't cried any more than Willie had, but the look in Ham's
eyes spoke of a deep sorrow that Willie couldn't quite comprehend. Kim's loss had
affected him deeply, and Willie could sense the pain and disquiet radiating beyond the
tough exterior Ham presented.

His eyes felt gritty and hot beneath the human contacts he wore.
Willie guessed that sand had probably been blown beneath them, irritating his
Sirian eyes. It wouldn't surprise him. There was sand in his hiking boots,
                                                                                        36


sand in his clothes, and sand underneath. Every muscle in his body ached. He was
looking forward to a quiet evening with Thelma and the hatchlings...well, at least as quiet
a night as he would get.

The first sound that greeted him when he opened the door was a
hatchling. Most likely, it was Benjamin, who was now eighteen months old. No one was
in the living room, which was strewn with the hatchling's toys. He found his wife,
Thelma, in the kitchen, pouring a glass of water into a lidded "sippee" cup for Benjamin.
The toddler's complaining stopped as he slurped loudly from his cup.

"Da Da!" Benjamin announced, his tiny voice reverberating joyfully.
"Da Da!" he repeated.

"Hello, Ben!" Willie greeted, feeling some of the heaviness of spirit
lifting already. He reached down and scooped the boy up into his arms.

Thelma turned around and regarded her husband coolly.

"Well, well...Look who finally made it home," she stated, "And, I see
you have done nothing to take my suggestions in coaching Benjamin on how to
say 'P'tathi. He should learn the Sullam Voe word for 'father', too...Where
in the name of Zon have you been, anyway?"

"I am sorry, Thelma. Some terrible things happened."

Once again, Willie felt his mood sagging. Thelma was angry with him;
not happy to see him, as he hoped she'd be.

"Of course terrible things happened!" she thundered, "What did you
expect would happen in the middle of the desert with hungry crivits? I told
you this was stupid. You never listen to me!"

"I do listen, Theiy'la," Willie replied, addressing his wife by her
Sirian name, "but I had to do this. I had to help...my friends..."

"At the expense of your family?"

"No, not at all. To protect my family."

Benjamin wriggled to free himself from his father's arms. Willie set
him down. His gaze traveled past his wife's glare, through the sliding
glass door just off the kitchen, and into the small square of grass that served as their
backyard. There, he could see his three-year-old daughter Samantha, silhouetted in the
twilight, playing. Actually, it appeared that she was stalking something on the ground. A
hunting game, no doubt. She was growing up beautifully, and Willie felt a surge of pride
as he gazed at her.
                                                                                        37



Thelma only shook her head. She then reached into the refrigerator and
pulled out a canister of infant's Protein Paste. Shouldering her way
past her husband, she went into the living room and over to an infant swing set up in the
corner. Then, she lifted their newly hatched son, Cameron, into her arms, and sat down
on the couch with him.

"Here, let me," Willie offered, holding out his arms.

"I have got it covered. Go call Samantha in. It is getting dark."
Thelma's voice was flat and emotionless.

He waited until all three hatchlings had been bathed and put to bed
before bringing up the resistance mission again.

"I am sorry I was gone longer than planned. We...uh...lost someone. It
was Kim Chang. The crivits..."

"I know what crivits do. That is why I did not want you to go. I am
sure that Kim's husband and her children will have a hard life doing without
her."

"Kim did not have a husband or children yet. She was very
young...about Robin's age, I think," Willie replied.

"What a shame she never will. Why do you not see this? You are the
only one that has a family to feed. You should not have been there."

"That is not true. Lydia was there, and she is a mother to Emily.
And, Mike Donovan has Sean..."

"Locked in some Visitor Youth camp somewhere. He should be trying to
get Sean back, not hunting for crivits in the desert!"

"He is trying to get Sean back. But he might find him in a camp that
is guarded by crivits. Mike should know what to look for. Oh, and then
there is Ham Tyler. Ham has a wife and daughter in Vietnam."

"Vietnam? Well, why is Ham not there with them?" Thelma asked
skeptically.

"I do not know the whole story, but from what I understand, Ham does
not know where his wife and daughter are. They were all separated in a terrible war
many years back. He has never found them. He does not even know if they still live."

"I understand that," Thelma said, "But you are missing one important
                                                                                            38


difference. With the exception of Lydia, who I feel had no business
being there either, no one else had a family that depends on them being there every day.
You do. We have three little hatchlings! Imagine what their lives would be if they lost
their father before they could even remember him!"

"I know, Thelma, I know..." Willie replied, his voice trailing. It was
an old argument. He understood Thelma's reasoning, she could not seem to
understand his. It was their duty to help the humans, who's planet;
the very same planet that was their own children's birth home, was threatened to
extinction. By his own kind, nonetheless! Despite that knowledge, the human resistance
had befriended him, and made him one of their own. How fair would it be to abandon
them in their time of need just because he had a family to feed? These issues were a
constant debate in Willie's life. During his earliest years on Earth, living among the
humans, he had met Harmony Moore. She was human, and was a sterling example of the
kindness and acceptance Willie would come to know from this species that he'd been told
were as dumb as cows. Despite their differences, Willie and Harmony had fallen in love.
Their time together had been very short. She died in a battle, leaving him alone on a
planet he was only just starting to learn about. Though he had several other human
friends, loneliness had become a constant companion for him. He spent a couple of years
without a significant other, desperately wishing to know again, someday, the joy he'd
known with Harmony. Then, he found Thelma. She had dated him many years ago on
their Homeworld, but their assignments had separated them. When they met again, they
were both happy that neither had married. They agreed to pick up where they'd left off.
Within a year, they married. Willie finally had the companionship he'd yearned for...but
now he was finding that it came
with a price. He loved Thelma, without a doubt. She understood him in many
ways that his human friends did not, since she was Sirian too. However, Willie
sometimes found himself wondering what life would have been like if fate had spared
Harmony, and they had married. She wouldn't have put him in a position like this, he
felt. Of all people, Harmony would have been the first to understand his loyalty to his
friends.

Willie kept these thoughts to himself. There was no need to threaten
Thelma with the memories he still had of Harmony. But, sometimes, he still
felt that despite his love for Thelma, she was not his soulmate. How could it be that the
woman who had given life to the family he'd dreamt of for so long
could, in many ways, still seem like a stranger to him?

"I had to miss work today. Elizabeth was already babysitting Emily,
and she couldn't get here in time. Money will be short again..." Thelma said.

Wille gazed at his wife with sympathy. No doubt, she paid a price for
companionship too. Three pregnancies in just as many years had taken
their toll on her. She was much leaner than she had been before they'd married. Part of
this was natural for Sirian females. Unlike human women, who tended to gain weight
after bearing children, the opposite was true for Visitor women. Hormones played a large
                                                                                         39


part in this. In the days of old, there had been no commercial protein pastes for Sirian
hatchlings. A new mother would have had to hunt for her child. After catching live prey
and eating it herself, a female of the older times would have regurgitated her meal for her
hatchling's consumption. The vomit reflex, common to gestating humans early in
pregnancy, was experienced by almost all Sirian women after delivery, and for sometime
afterwards. Though most no longer used this method to feed their hatchlings, the reflex
was instinctual. Thelma was often nauseated, and could rarely keep food down for very
long. As a result, she had lost a significant amount of weight. Willie also wondered how
much of Thelma's weight loss was due to stress. He was worried about her.

"I wish there had been a way for you to have the day off, and not to
have spent it worrying and being angry," he sighed, "You could really use a
break."

"We can not afford for me to take a break. I am thinking of finding a
higher paying job...." Thelma said, but she never continued the rest of her
thought. She was lucky enough to have the job she did. Waitressing wasn't
glamorous work, but she'd built up a rapport with the regular customers in Elias and
Miranda's new eating establishment. Tips were better there than they'd be anywhere else.
Her employers were also more sympathetic to issues in her life. After all, they employed
Willie as a bartender, and they were long time friends of his.

"When Cameron does not need the Protein Paste anymore, things will be
easier. It is so expensive," Willie said. It was the same thing he'd said
when Benjamin had been weaned from it, but then Thelma had learned she was
expecting again. The truth was, they could ill afford their third hatchling, but the
alternative, an intentional, pre-term egg cracking, was simply
unthinkable.

"I cannot do this without you, Willie..." Thelma said. "Not here in
this strange world. You cannot go out there and die on me."

"I will not. I promise," was all he could say. But Willie had seen and
touched too much death. It was a promise he wasn't at all sure he could
keep.

***************************************************************

Lydia had relieved Elizabeth when she'd returned back from the desert
disaster. She'd found the Starchild nervously pacing in the tiny
apartment, with Emily in her arms. Somehow, she'd known that something was wrong.
Lydia had done her best to reassure the young woman that Kyle had not been injured.
However, Elizabeth had seemingly sensed that Kyle had come close enough to death to
touch it. She had been right. Kim's death had shocked them all. Elizabeth had been very
distressed to hear of it. Lydia supposed that this would be a scene played out repeatedly
                                                                                            40


in the days to come as the other resistors, who hadn't been a part of the night's activities,
learned of what had happened.

Alone with her daughter now, Lydia found herself repulsed to be living
the moments over again in her mind. The grisly scenes played themselves
out in gory technicolor, despite any attempts to shut off the images. Lydia had come to
like the quiet, slender, young, human that the resistance had
introduced as Kim. Most of the time, the girl had worked undercover at the Visitor
Legation with her friend and fellow San Francisco Resistance transplant, Tonya.
Occasionally, Kim would be deployed on other missions, like the one that had claimed
her life. Lydia found similarities between herself and Kim. Both had been raised in
cultures much different than the mainstream population of Los Angeles. Obviously,
Lydia was Sirian. Kim had been born of parents that emigrated to the United States from
China. Neither of them were born speaking English. Lydia learned it in preparation for
her assignment to Earth. Kim had learned English in elementary school, as opposed to
from her parents, who were fluent only in Cantonese. Kim had a compassion for the
Sirians living amongst the humans that few others did. It was born of her own
experiences from her own cultural struggles. Her death was a great loss.

Lydia felt a large measure of responsibility for the mission's failure
to go as planned. She alone knew how dangerous crivits could be. Even Julie,
who had been pressured into roping Lydia and the other participants into
this job by her supervisors at EcoSound could not be held responsible. Julie, nor the
humans running the research project at the facility could fully
understand the true nature of such alien creatures. Silently, she cursed herself for not
thinking of a better strategy. Failure was not something Lydia accepted in herself
gracefully. It could be fatal to fail at one's tasks on board the Los Angeles Mothership.
Diana had a terrible habit of routinely picking off those that performed substandardly,
even if the error was minor and of little consequence. Lydia had lived with that pressure
on her crest for several years. Now that the daily threat of Diana's discipline was
removed from her life, she still found herself functioning as though it was still there.
Anything less than perfect was unacceptable. Unfortunately, the consequence of this
failure had been death; but not her own. She vowed that Kim's death would not be in
vain. She would learn from this so that there wouldn't be a next time.

Rocking Emily proved to be the right panacea. There was something so
peaceful about holding one's own child. Lydia had never felt more
important and more needed in her life. She hadn't started her military career out siding
with the Fifth Column. In fact, she'd been a staunch Loyalist to the Leader's plan, and
she had willingly participated in the early stages of the invasion. Her decision to do so
was all based on her desire to create a better existence for her parents, and for her
younger brother Nigel. Several years later, Nigel too, had enlisted. Lydia's perspective
had changed when she met Phillip. She already knew that the Leader had lied when he
briefed the military in regards to the human's intelligence. They weren't stupid.
However, at the time she'd
come to learn this, she still stubbornly wanted to believe. That belief
                                                                                        41


might save her parents from starvation. Then, she'd been reassigned to the
Los Angeles Mothership during the re-invasion. Diana provided Lydia with
more examples of how to make humans suffer than she'd ever seen during all
of the first invasion in her prior post in London. Lydia was not one to tolerate the
needless suffering of others, regardless of weather they were human or Sirian. When
Phillip was sent by the Leader to investigate certain events that had occurred on board the
Los Angeles Mothership, Lydia soon learned that he disliked Diana as much as she did.
Then, she'd learned he was a Fifth Columnist. Something in her had kept her from
turning him in. Instead, she allowed herself to be slowly influenced by his beliefs. They
made so much more sense. The disquiet she felt in her heart began to ease. Phillip
reassured her that none of her past actions mattered anymore...he had once been a
Loyalist himself. It was the actions of the present and the future that would matter.

The last straw in Lydia's transformation had been learning that her
brother had also sided with the Fifth Column. He was still an active crew
member on board the Los Angeles Mothership, assisting Phillip with the recruiting of
new members. Whenever he could, he gathered information and networked it to Phillip,
who, in turn, passed it on to the resistance. Lydia assisted wherever possible. Now that
she was based on Earth, her former experience as the Fleet Chief of Security was proving
quite valuable. She knew things that no one else did about how to bypass security
measures, how to erase evidence of tampering, how to decode security-encrypted
transmissions, and how to access some files stored on board the Mothership from
computers on Earth. Her knowledge and willingness to share it had formed the
beginnings of a trust among the humans she had once willingly conspired against. Like
Willie, she was slowly becoming one of them.

This, of course, meant that her daughter could reap the benefits of
this acceptance. Lydia could raise Emily here on Earth, knowing that her
child may never know the severe rationing and fear of hunger and deprivation
she'd grown up with. Emily's well being alone was reason enough for Lydia to stay
firmly sided with the resistance. Earth was Emily's home, and Lydia would die to protect
it for her, if that was what was required.



Chapter 4 The Lion Sleeps Tonight


"Lay a whisper on my pillow.
.Leave the winter on the ground.
I wake up lonely, is there a silence
in the bedroom, and all around?
Touch me now.
I close my eyes,
and dream away..."
                                                                                          42


~~ Roxette It Must Have Been Love



The sky was the same shade of azure that it usually was, as seen from
the small viewport in Diana's lab. Madeline had a few moments alone again,
but soap operas no longer interested her as much as they had before. Watching
them caused unexplainable yearnings that she couldn't tolerate for long.
She performed the routine laboratory chores that Mother had assigned for her, without
any feeling. Life had resumed it's normal routines on the surface, but her
brief experience in the world beyond her mother's laboratory and office had
taken its toll. A quiet hunger sparked somewhere in her being, creating a
desire to expand her universe. Where Mother could spend hours observing the
goings-on in a tiny petri dish, Madeline craved her life to be on a larger scale.
She often felt like she was no more significant than any other of Mother's
microscopic organisms; at least in her mother's point of view. The
desire to change that was present now, but the know how to proceed was not.

Gazing out at the sky was doing nothing to solve Madeline's current
predicament. Neither was the feeling that was beginning to register in
the back of her mind somewhere. Mother was returning. Madeline could sense her
presence stronger than she could register anyone else's. However, another
surprising sensation was making itself known. Mother was not returning alone.
Perhaps Phillip was coming too? Madeline had developed a cautious liking of
sorts for the Inspector General. She could feel a gentle spirit beneath his
unruffled exterior. There was also a feeling of grief deep within him that she
could perceive. It was almost as though he believed himself to only be half
complete. She puzzled over why. Had he lost someone he cared about? Figuring out
Phillip wasn't the only reason why she liked his visits. Many visits were
quite interesting. Long ago, Madeline had decided that Phillip and her
mother were at strong odds. Seeing the two of them act civil in each other's
presences, while sensing the undercurrents of passionate dislike beneath could be quite
entertaining, she'd learned. Always the unobtrusive observer, Madeline
gained more knowledge from what was not said than from anything ever spoken.

No, it was not Phillip with Mother. She had learned to sense Phillip
almost as astutely as she had her own mother's presence. The door slid open,
revealing that Mother was accompanied by Dale, the new Fleet Chief of
Security.

"Dale, you've met Madeline, my Lab Assistant," Diana announced as the
pair entered the room.

"Yes, I have had the pleasure," Dale responded politely. He gave
Madeline a visual once-over, causing Mother to cast an open glare in his
direction.
                                                                                      43



"I'm pleased to meet you again," Madeline replied. The words that left
her mouth felt wooden and automatic, and she knew they sounded that way,
too. She was disappointed that Dale had come instead of Phillip.

"Madeline, you should take your supper now. Dale and I have some
matters to discuss," Diana prompted. The hint couldn't have been clearer.
Madeline cleared herself out of the lab as fast as her legs could carry her,
relieved to be released from any of her mother's scrutiny. She excused herself to her
quarters, which had been created from a small section of Mother's
personal sleeping area. In her own refuge was a cooling unit stocked with the sort of
foods Madeline preferred. She also had a small cabinet for food storage of
the non-perishable variety. Dinner consisted of fruits, raw vegetables, peanut
butter with crackers, and an assortment of grubs. She rinsed and shelled live
snails for tonight's main course. After eating, she meticulously cleaned her
teeth. Dental hygeine was almost an obsession for her ever since her
experience awakening from her adult molting. She had emerged from her cocoon with
a mouthful of detatched teeth. Not realizing that her adult teeth had come in
during her metamorphasis and displaced her decidious ones, she'd been horribly
frightened. Spitting out teeth had been terrible, and she knew that
she was doomed to repeat that experience if she didn't care for her permanent ones. Not
to mention, there was the fact that everyone on every television show
she'd ever watched all had beautiful smiles full of white, straight, gleaming
teeth. It seemed to be a standard in recognizing human beauty. Madeline had no
wish to be regarded as ugly because she had a mouth full of stained, yellowish
teeth. She had also noticed, much to her disdain, that no one on the shows she
liked to watch had small holes in their front incisors through which they could
spit venom. This was a Sirian trait, and Madeline only wished she had access
to Homeworld entertainment broadcasts, where she could see references to
what the Sirian culture considered beautiful. Then again, perhaps it was best
not to know. After all, to their standards, she would likely be considered homely.

A few hours passed, and Madeline wondered why she hadn't been summoned
from her quarters to complete her work. She dared not leave her confines.
That was a rule. If she was sent to her room, that was a signal to hide
quickly. After a while, she could sense that dark had fallen. The chrono she
wore told her that if she was only lucky enough, she could be watching Beverly
Hills 90210 at this hour, if her mother wasn't around. A feeling of disquiet
settled over her. She had come to hate that feeling. Usually, it meant that she
might catch a glimpse of one of the "phantom officers" she used to see
frequently before her latest molt. She dared to poke her head out of her room,
and into her mother's quarters. Sure enough, the dark haired female one was there,
giving Madeline one of her eyeless stares. Madeline disliked her in
particular. The male apparition hardly ever noticed her. Without warning, the woman's
form vanished. Madeline ducked her head back inside and keyed her door
shut. She was just in time. The door separating her mother's lab/office from her
                                                                                         44


sleeping quarters slid open, and she heard her mother's footfalls
inside the room. Security Chief Dale followed. She could hear his voice faintly, as he
discussed something with Mother in low tones.

Madeline cocked her head, unable to see the puzzled expression on her
own face. This was the first time she could recall that anyone had ever
been inside her mother's room besides she, herself. Their conversation continued
for some time, still in hushed tones that Madeline couldn't quite distinguish.
Then, it seemed, the talking stopped. Mother's room was filled with an eerie
silence. However, Madeline could still sense the two presences on the
other side of her door. Occasionally, she could hear a noise. like a scraping or a
thumping sound on one of the walls. She hoped it wasn't the spector of
the eyeless woman rattling around in there...

Locked in her room, with nothing but her fertile imagination to keep
her company, Madeline eventually fell asleep. Her own natural biorythyms
woke her up a little sooner than her usual time in the morning, because she'd fallen
asleep so early. She got up anyways, dressed in a fresh uniform, and prepared
to use the lavatory to relieve herself, wash her face and hands, and brush
her hair and teeth. In order to get to the lavatory, she'd need to pass through
her mother's quarters, which she assumed was safe to do. Mother usually
woke before she did, and would already be at work in the lab or on the
bridge. A surprise awaited Madeline. Not only was her mother still in her bed
asleep, so was Security Chief Dale! Two uniforms were tossed side by side in a heap on
the floor. Neither one of them appeared to be wearing anything except
their human suits, although the coverings on the bed obscurred most of any obvious
proof to that fact. It was just like a soap opera! Madeline had no idea that
her mother was in love with Security Chief Dale. They'd only just met a
couple of weeks ago; but then again, people on soap operas fell in love quickly.
Then, they would kiss passionately and go to bed together. Sometimes, they'd
fight, and the woman would learn she was pregnant. Then, the man would find
out that the baby might not be his. Or an ex girlfriend would show up and try
to break up the happy couple. If the pair was lucky, they might get married. A
smile curved on Madeline's lips. Maybe Mother and Security Chief Dale were
conspiring to conceive an illegitimate love child together, so that they could
fight, then make up, then get married. She might get a brother or sister from
this!

Whatever the case, Madeline had to use the lavatory. She tiptoed
quietly past the sleeping couple, quickly took care of her natural business,
and crept back into her room. The rest of her daily grooming, even
toothbrushing, would have to wait.

The same scenario repeated itself the next evening. There was no doubt
in Madeline's mind that Mother and Security Chief Dale were trying to get
a hatchling. She tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. As she
                                                                                        45


attempted to drift off to sleep, a face popped into her mind of someone else she'd met on
the same night Mother had met Dale. Nigel. She remembered his kind, handsome
looks, and the way he'd smiled at her. This time, the flush she'd felt in her
cheeks that night spread throughout her entire body, touching and warming
every cell of her existence. It was while having pleasant thoughts of kissing Nigel
like men and women kissed on television that sleep finally came for her.

Something else came in the night for Madeline, too. Her eyes flew wide
open with no reason, cutting short a romantic dream about Nigel. She sensed
another presence in the room with her. Illuminated by a light source Madeline
could make no sense of, was the spector of the eyeless female officer. She
stood right beside Madeline's bed, a look of menace on her features. Then,
the woman's lips curved into a blood chilling smile. Madeline was frozen
in her bed, unable to scream. The shock hadn't even started to wear off before the
apparition began to fade, disappearing silently into the dark that had
spawned it.

This was the first occasion that any apparation had actually come into
Madeline's portion of the room. Usually, they stayed in the lab/office
area. Once or twice, she'd seen one or the other in her mother's section of the
sleeping quarters. Never hers. She knew she would not sleep another wink that
night, nor did she wish to share the dark with spectres. A hasty and bold
decision, born mostly of fear, came to her. She put on a clean uniform, keyed
open her door, and quietly slipped past the sleeping forms of her mother and
Security Chief Dale.

Layers of fright peeled off of Madeline as she quietly walked down the
corridors on her way to the elevator. She paid no heed to the possibility of what
the consequences would be if her absence was discovered. Adventure beckoned
loudly. She descended in the elevator, taking the same route she had
the last time she had come this way. Eventually, she arrived at the docking bay.
There was no level below the docking bay that could be of any interest. All of
those levels housed the ship's engines and various power sources for weaponry
and the like. Instead of getting out at the docking bay, she redirected the
elevator a level upwards. This had been the floor where the welcoming banquet for
the Fleet Chief of Security, Dale, had been held. There had been other
rooms, Madeline recalled, though she was not sure of their function. A brief,
inconspicuous tour on foot told her that this level not only served for
banquets, but there was also a public worker's cafeteria, and food preparation and
storage facilities. Even at this late hour, there was staff present, working to
clean produce and tend to the cages where the live prey was kept. There were
other rooms too, smaller than the banquet hall, and they were designed to
accommodate meetings where business might be discussed and food served.

Returning to the elevator, Madeline programmed it for the next level
higher. As the door opened, she faintly heard the sound of music in the
                                                                                      46


corridor. The decor on this level was decidedly different; much more casual. The
corridors themselves were designed to be more opened to the air, and
lined with several doorless entrances into the rooms within. She could hear
voices; seemingly a great many of them. Occasionally, a burst of excited conversation or
laughter would erupt. Curiosity propelled Madeline forward. She peeked
into one of the enterances, and found that the room beyond was actually one great
hall, with the many doorways in the corridor leading into it. Areas of the
room were partitioned off with various dividers that served as decor and as
privacy groupings. The partitions were primarily made of rock, and some even
had small fountains spewing water into tiny, built in ponds. There was a dance
floor in the great hall, and there were couples and groups gyrating to music
playing from concealed speakers. Many groupings of tables and chairs surrounded the
dance floor, and onlookerss sat at the tables watching the dancers while they
conversed. In a corner, Madeline could see a bar and a refreshment
stand. The stools along the bar were almost all taken. Excited shouts came from
the counter, as if some sort of table games were being played. She saw currency
change hands, and figured it was a gambling game, like she'd seen on Beverly
Hills 90210. The far end of the hall was a recreation area of sorts. There were
more gambling games over there; the players sitting in groups at tables,
dealing cards or rolling dice. Many of the others in the hall wore uniforms like
Madeline, but quite a few wore social clothing. All of them wore their human
guises. Madeline was quite surprised at how many there were pursuing various
leisure time activities. It was past midnight, according to her chrono.

Madeline found that she was quite thirsty, but she had no currency that
would permit her to buy a mineral water at the bar. Instead, she chose a seat
at a more isolated table, and watched the activities around her. Obviously,
she had stumbled into the Mothership's common recreational hub. If she
wanted to learn more about social behavior, this was the place to be. The
gambling activity at the bar suddenly raised an octave. Someone had just won a
large wager. Bystanders were clapping him on the back, and there was a slight
smattering of applause. Madeline's jaw nearly dropped to her chest when she saw
who the big winner was. It was Nigel! Quickly, she averted her gaze. He was
leaving the bar, and he and a couple of male companions were heading in her
general direction. Drinks sloshed in all of their hands, and their
conversation was animated. Despite her attempts to blend in with the upholstery on her
chair and remain unseen, it was only moments later that she was noticed.

"Well, my goodness," Nigel cried, "If I am not mistaken, you are
Madeline, right?" He had stopped at her table and was gazing down at her. Her
heart jumped into her throat. She could only manage a nervous nod in reply.

"What a surprise! How did you manage to get yourself sprung from the
lab? I got the impression that Diana had alot of work for you to do, and she
was not going to let you out of her sight," he said in his smooth,
reverberating tones.
                                                                                       47



"I..um..I snuck out," Madeline stammered, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Oh, I see..." Nigel replied thoughtfully. He turned to his two companions.

"Would you two go ahead and start that Fru'kah game? I will be along in
a few minutes," he suggested to them.

"You got it," one of the others answered, "Some guys have all the
luck." He gave Madeline an appreciative look before he and his friend departed
towards the gaming area.

Nigel took the chair opposite Madeline, and set his drink down on the table.

"I did not figure you would want to advertise that in front of the
other fellows. I should have had a little more tact, and I apologize. I am
a little tipsy," he explained with a sheepish grin.

"Tipsy?" Madeline quipped. That was a term she'd never heard.

"Oh, you know, feeling a bit of a buzz. It is the drink. Don't worry,
though, I am not absolutely blotto."

"Blotto? Do you mean drunk?"

"Absolutely."

Madeline's eyes snapped wide open. She was not aware that he had just
addressed her with a friendly, British endearment. Nigel seemed to
pick up on her surprise at once. He chuckled lightly.

"I keep forgetting that you are very new," he said, "It must be
difficult for you, especially since anyone that knows me tends to know who my sister
Lydia is. She used to be the Security Chief, and she was originally assigned
to the London Mothership. My phraseology is a bit different than most others
you will meet around here, because I learned so many phrases from her."

"Oh, that is alright," Madeline stated emphatically, "I understand. My
ways of talking are not the same either; at least not yet." She didn't tell
Nigel that she didn't even care what he said or how he said it. She just
liked to be around him.

"So, you actually slipped out of the leash Diana has you on? I am
dying to know how you managed that."

"I just got away. I think she is too busy sleeping with Security Chief
                                                                                   48


Dale to notice that I left my quarters," Madeline answered.

Nigel's eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"You do not say..." he commented.

"I do not say what?"

"I did not know that the new Chief and Diana are scruffing. Go figure."

"Scruffing?" Madeline asked.

"Uh...yes..." Nigel responded, biting his lips. He seemed embarrassed.

"Scruffing?" she repeated. This was not a term she'd ever heard on any
of the shows she'd ever watched.

"Yes, that is right," he answered, "It is an expression."

"An expression for what?" She felt that she was pressing against his
embarrassment, and she hoped she wouldn't offend him, but she just had
to know.

"It is a crude expression for um..you know..sex." he replied, with a
nervous chuckle.

"Oooooh, right. Well, if that is what it means, I would definately say that
they are scruffing," Madeline said with a small, conspiratorial smile.
This sort of conversation was called gossip on the television shows she watched.
Everyone on television gossipped, it seemed. If they weren't 'scruffing'
someone themselves, they were always talking about who else was.

"Would you like a drink?" Nigel asked, abruptly changing the subject.

"Yes, very much, I would, but I do not have any currency," she
answered.

"Oh, no worry. My treat. What would you like?"

She understood that he was going to buy a drink for her, and she felt a
rush of gratitude.

"Water," she responded simply, "It would be good."

"Are you certain you would not like something a little stronger? To
celebrate tonight's freedom, perhaps?"
                                                                                  49



"I have never had anything else to drink," Madeline replied, honestly.
Nigel gazed at her with a soft sort of look that almost seemed as though he
understood something and felt sorry for her.

"Let me order for you," he suggested, "And if you do not like it, I
will get you a straight water."

Madeline nodded her agreement. Nigel went back to the bar, and
returned a few minutes later with two glasses. They were filled with a clear
liquid that resembled water, but Madeline's sense of smell told her immediately
that it was not.

"Gulp it down real fast, like this," he told her, demonstrating with
his own beverage. Madeline imitated his motions, a look of utter shock and
surprise appearing on her face. Despite it's liquid content, the drink felt as
though it was made of fire as it travelled down her throat. A loud, whooping
exhale escaped her lips after her drink reached it's intended destination in
her stomach. She felt her cheeks color.

"It is strong, but give it a moment," Nigel said with a big grin on his
face. As he finished talking, Madeline began to understand his meaning. The
fire had receeded, leaving behind a very pleasant warmth.

"That was not so bad, " she stated after a moment's consideration, "I
think I could like that."

"Well, there you go, then. I will get us another, and we will toast to
your escape."

Madeline eagerly accepted her second drink, and they clinked their
glasses together. Then, simultaneously, they guzzled down the contents.

"How would you like to join in a game of Fru'kah? I will introduce you
to my friends, Joe and Rudy."

"Oh, I would like that, but I don't know how to play Fru'kah," Madeline
responded. She felt a twinge of woeful ineptitude.

Nigel tried unsucessfully to hide his surprise. Apparently, Fru'kah
was a common Sirian game, but Madeline had never even heard of it before, let
alone played it. She didn't tell Nigel this.

"My poor dear," he crooned sympathetically, "You do not get out much,
do you?"
                                                                                     50


"I am afraid that I do not," she replied.

"Well, then, it is high time you learned. I will explain the game on
the way."

They rose from their seats, leaving their empty glasses on the table.
As they walked toward the gaming area, Nigel explained the finer points of
Fru'kah. She learned that it was a game of odds, and players wagered on what
number combinations they believed would appear on the dice when they were
rolled. Total accuracy was rare, and awarded well. Other guesses were awarded
to a lesser extent when a player didn't correctly predict the numbers, but the sum
of the numbers that appeared was the same as what their guess would have
equalled. It seemed simple enough to understand, and in fact, it was quite
simple. For that reason, it was a favorite choice for the inebriated. As they
walked towards the Fru'kah table, Nigel slipped his arm companionably around
Madeline's shoulder. Her knees nearly crumbled, and a warmth washed over her,
making her head spin. She supposed she'd feel the exact same way even if she
hadn't had a couple of drinks. To steady herself, she put her arm around his
waist. Then, she realized that her motion drew the two of them even closer
together. She liked that.

"So, Nigel, you finally made it." The speaker was one of the friends
that had been with him when he'd first approached Madeline.

"I made it," he answered, "And, I brought my friend, Madeline. She
will be my partner. Madeline, these are my friends, Rudy and Joe."

"Welcome aboard," the one introduced as Joe stated. A round of
handshakes finished the introductions. Then the game went underway. An hour
later, several drink glasses sat empty on the table, and a stack of currency
sat in front of Nigel. Another round of handshakes signalled that the game was
over. The opposing team was out of money. Nigel and Madeline had won all but two
rounds. Joe and Rudy announced that they were going to the bar to drown their
sorrows. When they left, Nigel turned to Madeline, a look of utter
surprise on his face.

"You say you have never played before? You are a sly one," he said
with a wide, amazed smile.

"I have not, I swear. It just must be a lucky game for me," she
responded. It had been so easy. She had literally been afforded brief glimpses,
almost every time, of how the dice would present before they'd stopped
rolling. She didn't suppose anyone else had been able to do this, but it didn't
really occur to her to wonder why.

"Well, I think they call it beginner's luck. I would say you were
                                                                                    51


blessed with it!" He began to divide the stack of currency, and he pushed one
of the two stacks toward her.

"No, Nigel. This is your money. I did not wager any. I did not have
any!" she cried in shock.

"That is alright. There is plenty to go around. Obviously, I would
not have done so well without you as my good luck charm, so please do take your
share."

Madeline slowly obeyed, stashing the chips in the various pockets of
her coveralls. She caught a glance of the chrono on her wrist as she did
this. With horror, she realized that two hours had passed since she'd left the
confines of her quarters. She hadn't intended to be gone so long! Nigel
noticed the look of alarm on her face.

"I should go..it has gotten so late!" she announced, barely able to
hide the panic in her voice.

"Yes, I suppose you don't have very long, but...It is only quarter past
two. I would not think that even Diana would be up and out of bed at this
hour, especially if she is entertaining company." Nigel replied in an
attempt to calm her.

"You could be right, but I am worried of getting caught."

"I would not blame you one bit, and I surely do not want to cause you
any trouble. You would not mind honoring me with just one dance before you
go, would you? I do not suspect I will get to see you again anytime soon."

Madeline considered her options carefully before deciding. Nigel was
right. It was unlikely her mother would get out of bed for any other reason
than a trip to the lavatory. And, she knew that sneaking out again before a
few nights had passed, at least, was too risky. Nigel had been so kind to
her, and the least she could do was afford him one dance. She nodded, and smiled.
Nigel took her hand and led her out of the gaming area and onto the dance
floor. A slow paced Sirian ballad was playing from the speakers. Madeline had
never heard the song before, but she liked the tune, and she understood some
of the words.

Nigel took her hands into his, and held them up close to his chest. At
the same time, he pulled her close to him and gazed into her eye contacts.
His fingers traced a light pattern over hers, and then he settled them into
her palm, and applied a light pressure. All at once, she felt a pleasant spark
of warmth shoot up through her hands and into her arms. From there, it
seemed to travel straight to her heart, encircling it and caressing it. Her
                                                                                       52


pulse stepped up immediately, and she felt her breathing quicken. Then, Nigel guided
one of her hands to rest on his shoulder. With one of his hands now freed, he
gently placed it in the small of Madeline's back, bringing her even
closer to him. He brought his forehead down to lightly touch hers. As they gently
swayed together to the music, Nigel eased the tips of his fingers into her
back, applying a soft pressure to the area a few inches above her tail bone.
Suddenly, it seemed as though the joints in Madeline's knees had turned to putty.
She leaned into him and allowed him to support her weight. The room seemed
to spin and lose focus. Theories working in her scientifically trained mind
supposed to her that the alcohol she'd had might be intensifying her reactions, but
her wildly beating heart told her that neither science nor alcohol had
anything to do with it. This was just like the dream she'd awaken from earlier,
only it was better because it wasn't a dream. It was real, and it became even
more unbelievably real when Nigel softly brushed his lips against hers. His
kiss was gentle and questing, as though he were asking her permission. Madeline
was too electrified and too stunned to do more than gaze upwards at him and
tilt her head, resting it on his shoulder for support. He gathered her closer
again, and pressed his fingers into her palm and into her back, reigniting
those sparks of warmth. He lowered his lips to hers once more, but this
time, Madeline responded; not with shock, but with hunger. Something was coming
awake
inside of her, opening up sensations and desires that went far beyond the
scope of her dreams. Nigel seemed completely oblivious to the transformations
occurring in Madeline as he kissed her and swayed with her. Madeline was
oblivious now to any thought. She was utterly consumed with what she was feeling.
It was beyond paradise, yet there was a strange sense of wanting..of needing.
Ghosts of that desire haunted the corners of her mind, but they were sated for
as long as Nigel kissed her. Then, he gently broke away from her. A small
wimper escaped from her throat as she looked up at him with glazed eyes.

"We had better get you back, love, or there will not be a next time for
us," he whispered huskily to her. Madeline nodded shakily and swallowed
hard. Now, she felt pain. The sensations in her body will still active and
at war, demanding with an authority that surpassed even her mother's, that they
be returned to their former state of ecstasy.

Nigel walked Madeline to the elevators, but was forced to part her
company there. He sent her off with a light, lingering kiss that hinted of
future promise. Madeline felt her head humming as she was let off on her
level. Her steps felt clumsy and uneven. This, she knew, was the alcohol. The
realization that she'd need to be very quiet when entering Mother's quarters
sobered her up some. She felt an immense measure of relief to see Mother and Dale's
forms, silohuetted in the dark, still in bed, sound asleep. Neither of them
even stirred as she passed by and quietly keyed herself into her own room.
As she stripped of her uniform and crawled into bed, she smiled in the dark.
This night had given her more promise and passion, more fufillment and longing
                                                                                      53


than any soap opera episode could show her. Her most passionate fantasies
couldn't even come this close. She supposed she had the frightening apparition of
that female officer in her room to thank for it, but she also had Nigel.
And she knew she would have Nigel many times again, in her dreams, until she saw him
next time.

Chapter 5 Distractibility


"Darling, I don't know why I go to extremes,
too high or too low, there ain't no in- betweens.
And if I stand, or I fall,
it's all or nothing at all.
Darling, I don't know why I go to extremes..."

~Billy Joel I Go to Extremes

Ham Tyler insisted that Kim Chang's body be interred in the same place
where other fallen resistance members were buried; most notably, Ruby Engels.
Everyone was shocked and saddened by Kim's loss, especially Brandon and
Tonya. That was to be expected, since they had fought with her in San Fransisco,
and later traveled with her to Los Angeles. Not many understood Ham
Tyler's apparent grief, however.

Mike Donovan made certain to pass the unfortunate news along the wire
to the Grapes of Wrath resistance cell in Lodi, California. That was where
two other of Kim's close associates, Paul Keifer and Chuck Shanklin, were now
headquartered. They too had come to Los Angeles in the days following
the Loma Prieta Earthquake with Kim, Tonya, and Brandon. However, they had returned
to
Northern California a short time later. Though neither one of them were
able to leave their activities to attend Kim's memorial service, Chuck Shanklin
told Mike that he would inform Kim's reletives in San Fransisco.

Tonya took charge of the memorial service. Not many of the Los Angeles
resistance members knew that Kim had been Buddhist, but Tonya did. She
found a Buddhist priest for the service. The mourners in attendance were of
several other faiths; the large majority of them belonging to some denomination
of Christianity. Willie and Thelma were Sirian Zonists, and the Bernsteins
were Jewish. There were some that might not even claim any religion, such as Kyle,
Chris, Brandon, or Lydia. What no one knew was that Ham Tyler and Kim Chang,
on a few isolated occasions, had swapped theories on Buddhist philosophies. She
had become one of the few people that learned that Ham had loosely
converted to Buddhism after marrying his wife, Nguyet, in Vietnam. Then, there were
the two that were not only interspecies hybrids, but also schooled in two faiths.
Elizabeth was raised of a lapsed Catholic mother, and she was taught
                                                                                           54


some of the principals of Zonism from Willie. What Willie taught her, she passed
on to the other Starchild in the group, Abraham. In addition, he was being raised
in the Jewish faith by his grandparents, Stanley and Lynne.

Regardless of ethnic or species or religious background, the Buddhist
service for Kim was understood by all. The principals of peace and comfort to
the grieving were the same in almost all religions. Everyone knew that Kim
Chang was in a better place. As for the rest, life had to go on.

***************************************************************

Kyle Bates's ranchette, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, was crowded
these days. He had offered to allow Robin to move her two sisters in with
her and Elizabeth, so that they could all live together as a family. It was a
family he felt happy to be included in, since he'd been seeing Elizabeth for a
few years now. Other than his mother, who was still committed to a psychiatric
hospital, Kyle had no living family. Sharing his home with the Starchild, her
mother, and her two aunts (one of which was still a child), was trying at
times. He learned that the two eldest sisters had never been particularly close
growing up, and many times, their sparring matches continued. Katie, the
youngest of the sisters, tried hard to adjust to life without an acutal parent to raise
her. She also had issues, from much earlier in her childhood, with
Elizabeth. According to Elizabeth, who didn't like to remember the event, let
alone speak of it, she had once spit venom at Katie when she was too young to know
better. She claimed not to have much memory of the incident, but Katie had never
forgotten. The only thing that helped Katie's perspective was Elizabeth's size and age
now, and the fact that she hardly resembled the girl that had injured Katie so long ago.

Kyle and Elizabeth had just returned from a trip to the auto parts store to
get some necssities to tune up his beloved dirt bikes. The school bus had
dropped Katie off minutes before. It had been her last day of school for the
year.

A full blown arguement was in progress when Kyle and Elizabeth entered
the house. Robin and Katie were in the kitchen, discussing the results of
Katie's report card.

"Do you realize what these grades mean, Katie? You won't be going to
6th grade unless you pass summer school," Robin admonished her younger
sister.

"I don't wanna go!" Katie argued, "It's not fair!"

"How is it not fair? We talked about this last report period. You
promised you'd try harder. We even cut back your TV time, but still...Your
teacher says that you don't complete your assignments, and you daydream in
                                                                                   55


class and spend to much time chit-chatting with your friends. You had your
chance, Katie, but you blew it!"

"My teacher is lying! She hates me! I'll bet she's nothing but a scaly
Lizard!"

"Mrs. Fisk is not a scaly Lizard. She's a teacher that knows what
she's doing.."

"Well, you said that Brian wasn't a scaly Lizard either, but you were
wrong!" Katie spat.

Robin's jaw dropped and her eyes flew open wide. How could Katie,
who'd only been about 4 years old in those days, remember that? Her shock was
soon replaced by a seething anger.

"Katie, I swear...You have 3 seconds to get out of my sight before I
blow my stack." You'd better just go to your room, where I can't see you for
the rest of the afternoon!"

"Fine!" Katie thundered, stomping out of the kitchen. She turned and
defiantly called over her shoulder, "I'm NOT going to summer school!
You can't make me!" The girl was too angry to notice Kyle and Elizabeth were standing
by the kitchen door, eavesdropping. As soon as Katie left, they eased their
way in.

"OHMYGAWD, what am I going to do with that girl?!"!" Robin cried
exasperatedly.

"She sure has some moxy, doesn't she?" Kyle stated, "Hey, I think I may
understand what I put my dad through now. When I was her age, I acted
just like that."

"Aren't you glad I grew up fast?" Elizabeth questioned. For once,
Robin felt she could honestly answer yes to that.

"Yeah. To top things off, her teacher sent home a note. She thinks I
should have Katie evaluated for Attention Deficit Disorder. I dunno...,"
Robin sighed, thoughtfully.

"What is that?" Elizabeth asked.

"It's bullcrap, that's what. Teachers like to diagnose kids with ADD
so that their parents will dope them on Ritalin and the kids will behave like
nice little zombies in class," Kyle retorted with a face.
                                                                                    56


"Kids who have trouble paying attention for long periods of time, and
are highly distractible have symptoms of ADD. It's a brain dysfunction or
something," Robin replied.

"Don't buy into it, Robin. There's nothing wrong with that girl that
some good discipline won't handle. She just needs to get her priorities
straight."

"Since when did you get a psychology degree, Kyle?" This came from
Polly, who had just come home herself. She stood framed in the doorway,
accompanied by Tonya Follows.

"Well, I don't have a psychology degree, but the teachers tried to pull
this crap on my old man when I was in school. They convinced him he should
have a psychiatrist evaluate me for it. Well, my dad drug me around to every
shrink in town, and they all told him the same thing. I didn't have ADD. I
didn't need Ritalin. What I needed was a good, swift kick in the ass. Dad
sent me to military school for a year. That straightened me out." Kyle's eyes
darkened at the memory.

"Well, I don't think we should be so quick to dismiss Katie's troubles
in school as behavior problems. What if she really does have it? Some
kids do, y'know. I'm beginning to suspect that maybe Abraham has it."

"Abraham?" Robin quipped, "How could he have it?"

"Well, let's put it this way. Some of Katie's teachers in Chicago
thought she should be evaluated for it, but Aunt Rebecca felt the same way
about it that Kyle does. She was never tested. I, on the other hand, decided to
research it. It's not just a crackpot diagnosis...there's certain guidelines
psychiatrists and pediatricians are supposed to use. I read up on
them. It seems to me that Katie has alot of the symptoms. So does Abraham," Polly
explained.

"Abraham is only a year old," Kyle countered, "And he's a hybrid. How
can he be judged by the same criteria?"

Polly rolled her eyes back, and then she levelled her gaze at Robin.

"I'm totally serious, here. Kyle wouldn't know what I'm talking about.
He's not the one who's trying to tutor Abraham for his GED. I am. I'm
telling you, that boy has the attention span of a gnat! Sure, he's young,
but..."

"But what?" Robin asked.
                                                                                    57


"Well, I'm not really sure how to bring this up to the Bernsteins
without totally freaking them out. See, I remember how Danny was...he could
never get his act together, no matter what he tried. I remember Lynne talking to
Mom about it. He did crappy in school, and when he finally did graduate,
he couldn't get a job and keep it for the life of him. When I think back, I
wouldn't be surprised if Danny had it. And, from what I read, Attention Deficit
Disorder can run in families. Abraham is the same way. He's absolutely
brilliant; no doubt about it. Lots of people with ADD are. They can't concentrate
though. It's hard for them to function in school or at work without
intervention. Maybe that's why Danny went off the deep end. He might have had it,
but never got the help he needed. If that's the case, I'd hate for Abraham...and
Katie....to suffer the same fate."

"There's no ADD in our family, though," Robin stated, a chill running
up her spine.

"None that we know of...but...Look, Binna, I know the final decision
rests with you, but I think we should listen to Katie's teachers, just to be
safe. Maybe her bad grades really aren't her fault," Polly suggested.

"Well, I'll definately keep it in mind. Let's see how Katie does in
summer school. I know she doesn't want to go, but she doesn't have a choice.
We'll just have to work with her and keep encouraging her, I guess," Robin
answered. She bit her lip and averted her gaze.

"I didn't really handle her too well this afternoon," she reflected,
"Maybe I should apologize to her."

"She should apologize to you, Robin. I heard that crack she made, and
frankly, I think you were amazing. If I'd talked to my father like
that, he would have done more than yell at me and send me to my room, that's for
sure," Kyle asserted.

"I think maybe you both need some time to cool off," Polly said, "In
the meantime, Tonya and I have the application for you."

Tonya, who'd been quietly waiting; discreetly, outside of the
conversation ring, stepped forward. She had papers in her hand that she handed to
Robin. A pained look haunted her expression, but her actions were very matter of
fact.

"You should fill these out as quick as possible. They want to fill
Kim's position within the next couple of weeks," she said quietly.

Robin studied the employment application with close scrutiny. She had
been chosen, by an almost unanimous vote, to apply for the new vacancy at
                                                                                         58


the Visitor Legation as a file clerk. Her typical duties were listed on
the front sheet of the application. The duties not listed would be ones the resistance
needed her to perform. Essentially, she and Tonya would be spending
their workdays listening for any juicy gossip that might pass their way. The Visitors
often did their dealings with important human legislators at the Legation.
They also hosted some special functions there, especially ones designed to
fool the human public into thinking that their intents were now peaceful.

Robin would use an assumed name if she was selected for the position.
She would also alter her appearance somewhat, by styling her hair
different, and dying it auburn. Ham Tyler had obtained the necessary documentation
for Robin's assumed identity, including a bogus social security number and, soon, a
driver's license. All that was needed for the license was her photo,
which would be taken after she donned her disguise. She also had a fake employment
reference, thanks to Elias and Miranda. They were willing to front the
story that she had worked at their restaraunt for the past year and a half, doing
basic office work; filing, inventory, ordering, answering phones, and general
hostessing. They had her assumed name, in case anyone called to check her
references.

"Okay, you will officially be Tamera Nicole O'Ryan, aka, Tammie. We
have your date of birth as September 6, 1967. Your fake address will be 861
Admiral Street, which is a legitimate house, only it's really abandoned. List
your real phone number, because you never know when they'll call you. You should
have the answering machine changed to reflect the O'Ryan residence, or
something. If anyone calls asking for a Tamera O'Ryan, you'll know it's them,"
Tonya briefed her. She handed a folder to Robin containing all of the bogus
information that Ham had supplied. Robin leafed through it, amazed at the
documentation that had been amassed. Not only were there authentic looking vital
statistic papers like a social security card and a birth certificate, but there
was also a fake high school diploma, and a graduation certificate from an
accredited clerical program at a vocational school. Then, of course, there would
be her driver's license. With the falsified employment experience and bogus
education credits, Robin would meet the minimum prerequisites required for the
job.

"Oh, by the way," Tonya mentioned, "Ham told me to tell you that he'll be
over later tonight. He's going to take you to get your picture taken
for your I.D. He also wants to test you. I gave him a list of the interview
questions I was asked when I applied, and he's gonna see how well you answer them."

"Oh, goody," Robin moaned, "I thought I was done with pop quizzes.
Well, I suppose if he's coming tonight, I'd better get this filled out and then
go color my hair."

"Yeah, I wouldn't waste any time. When he gave me this stuff, he didn't
                                                                                       59


really seem like he was in any mood to fool around."

"Are you sure your up for this, Mother?" Elizabeth asked, her voice filled
with apprehension.


"I have to be," Robin said, forcing her voice out past the lump of fear
in her throat. She managed a quick smile, as she remembered her father's
bravery. She hoped he'd be with her in spirit, to give her strength. Then, she
turned to Elizabeth again with another, bigger smile.

"Interviewing with the Visitor's staff at the Legation will be a cakewalk if
I make it past Ham Tyler's test," she stated with a cheerful confidence.

"We should leave you alone now, so you can get this done," Polly stated,
gesturing at the mess of papers strewn on the kitchen table, "Don't
worry about Katie. Leave her to me, and I'll have a little talk with her."

Robin had her new look ready when Ham Tyler arrived to pick her up, promptly
at 8:00 that evening. Her disguise would be nothing as elaborate as Ruby
Engels' had been when she'd worked undercover as a cleaning lady. No wig or extra
padding or false teeth were required. It was figured that subtle changes
would work best, since Robin would have to maintain her disguise over a
long period of time. Her hair, which she had cut short after the Visitor's
reinvasion, had grown out some. It was now shoulder length, and dyed a light shade
of auburn... She now wore it in a bobbed cut. Polly styled her bangs off
to the side, and applied gel, to smooth it closer to her head. Robin's "new"
wardrobe would complete the transformation. To conform to Legation dress codes,
Julie had provided Robin with a few necessary items of professional, office
attire. She now had two skirts, two blouses, a pair of panty hose, a belt, a
pair of pumps, a handbag, and a blazer. These would service for any scheduled
interviews. If she was hired, trips to local thrift stores would be
needed to expand her wardrobe selection. To test out her disguise, Robin was dressed
and groomed as though she were going to her interview now.

"If I didn't know better, I'd swear you were a cast member from L.A.
Law," Kyle commented, scrutinizing Robin's new look.

"She's Mary Mary, Quite Contrary, off to work as a Secretary," Polly laughed.

"Very funny, guys. I feel like a total geek," Robin sarcastically
responded.

"I think you look very pretty, Mother," Elizabeth stated, "What do you
think, Ham?"
                                                                                       60


Ham afforded Robin a flinty gaze, examining her closely from head to
toe. Then, he cleared his throat.

"I think time's wasting. Let's get going," he said in a gruff tone of
voice.

Once inside the van, Ham's manner seemed to relax a little. He pulled
a shrink wrapped toothpick out of one of the pockets of his leather
jacket, unwrapped it and stuck it in the side of his mouth As he drove, he
cast a sidelong glance at his passenger.

"So, how goes it tonight, Robin?" he asked in a surprisingly casual
tone of voice.

"Uh...fine, thank you?" she nervously responded. She was rudely
shocked when Ham lurched the van into a turn lane and pulled into the parking lot of
a fast food restaraunt.

"Let's get one thing straight here, kid. Your name is not Robin. It's
Tamera, got that?" Still sucking on his toothpick, he turned toward
her and gave her a stern look.

"Uh, right. Tamera." Robin echoed quietly.

"So, now, I'm gonna ask you again. How goes it tonight, Robin?"

"Who's Robin?" she answered, trying to hide the quaver in her voice.

"That's better. I'm gonna only tell you this once. When you go into
the Legation, you are not Robin. You don't even know anyone named Robin.
You will have to eat, breathe and sleep Tamera, aka Tammie. If you hesitate; if
you screw up, you're dead."

"I understand," Robin replied solemnly.

"Look, I need to be honest with you. I didn't go for this. Frankly, I
think you're the last person that should be doing this," Ham said past the
toothpick.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence." Her voice held a tone of
defiance.

"It has nothing to do with how well you can do the job. I don't doubt
your potential."

"Then, what does it have to do with?"
                                                                                      61



"Nothing. I just don't like this. Not with you. You've been put
through enough. I'm sure Queen Scaly would just love to knock you up with
another hybrid, and this assignment is putting you at a serious risk."

"Not if she doesn't find out. Tonya said that Diana hardly ever comes
to the Legation, and even if she did, I'll be back in the file room where she
won't see me," Robin said. Then, she leveled a surprisingly mature gaze at
Ham.

"Look, you may have your misgivings, and I even have some concerns. That's
why I need you to believe in me. I have to do this, and I have to do
it right. You're right...I can't let my guard down, and I can't screw up. Maybe
Diana would love to get her hands on Robin Maxwell, but she won't even care
about Tamera O'Ryan. Tamera is a little nervous about getting an interview
for this job, so maybe you could just help her out a little, and have some faith
in her."

"Well, then, I think we should do your interview." From another jacket
pocket, he pulled out a folded piece of paper containing Tonya's
questions. One by one, he fired them at her, allowing her to answer without comment or
interruption.

"OK, so how did..I..um..I mean, Tamera do?" Robin asked nervously.

"How the hell would I know? I'm not the one looking to hire a file
clerk," he responded shortly.

"Great, Ham!" Robin cried, her exasperation coloring her "professionally"
made up cheeks.

"Keep practicing. You'll do fine," he replied in an even tone that
betrayed none of the resignation he felt.

Returning home, Robin wished for nothing more than a chance to unwind.
Ham followed her inside, telling her that he wanted to compare the new fake
I.D. to the other documents to make certain it was right. In the living room,
yet another transformation job was in the making. Elizabeth, Polly and
Tonya had several dresses from Robin's closet out on the couch. One by one, Polly
was holding them up to herself while the others gave their thumbs up or down. Katie
was nowhere to be found, presumably still pouting in her room.

"What's going on?" she asked, making no attempt to disguise the
annoyance in her tone at the sight of her clothes being used in a fashion show,
without her permission.
                                                                                       62


"Oh, well, I didn't know if you'd forgotten about that charity dinner
next Friday night that we were supposed to go to, but it starts at 4:00. If
you get that job, I'll have to get me a replacement date," Kyle stated,
nonchalantly, as he popped open a beer.

Robin pursed her glossed lips and let some air escape from between them
in a hiss.

"Oh, crap, no, Kyle. I didn't forget, not exactly. Well, okay, maybe I kind
of did," she admitted.

"Don't sweat it. This is more important. I'd just as soon blow off the
whole damn dinner thing anyway, except I already committed to it, so I'm sort
of stuck. If you don't get the job, you're still in, but if you get it,
I'll need a back up."

"What, so you're drafting my kid sister?" Robin asked incrediously.

"What the hell is wrong with that, Binna? I'm not exactly a kid!" Polly
snapped.

"I'm just scoping the possibility," Kyle said, "Tonya went last time. I
don't want someone thinking that we're an 'item' and getting those tabloid
tongues wagging."

For the first time, Ham looked up from his document scrutiny and
fastened his gaze on Kyle.

"Where in the hell are you planning on taking Polly, Baby Warbucks?"

Kyle set his beer down on the coffee table with a thud, a small
bubbling of suds rising up through the hole in the top of the can.

"What's it to ya', old man?" he challenged.

Polly let the light blue sundress she'd been holding up fall on the
couch, and her hands found their way into a defensive posture: one on each of
her hips.

"What's it to me? You really don't want me to answer that..."

"C'mon, guys," Robin started, "Ham, it's nothing, okay? It's just that
sometimes, Kyle has to attend public functions. You know...luncheons,
stockholder meetings, golf games..stuff like that...With some of the important
people that his father used to do business with. He does it to keep money
funnelling into the resistance, like Elias does with is restaurant. Only, sometimes,
                                                                                      63


some of these public functions require him to bring a date. Or, at least, it
would look good for him to. So, to avoid tabloid talk that he's dating Elizabeth,
one of us will dress up as his 'flavor of the week' and go, in disguise, as
his date."

Ham made a grunting noise that clearly communicated his disgust.

"So far, it's worked out really well," Tonya continued, "We nickname
ourselves 'Kyle's Angels'. When we go with him, we use it as a spy
opportunity to find out who's cozying up with the Lizards."

"Yeah, and you all expose yourselves and put your own butts and the
rest of ours on the line if you get caught. You ever think of that?" Ham asked.

"Gee, look who's starting to sound like Julie," Kyle taunted, "Maybe we
should put the issue up for a vote..."

"Maybe I ought to rearrange your teeth, smartass..."

"Well, see, you'd think it's a great idea if you'd been the one to
think of it, but since you didn't, you think the idea sucks. That's what it is,
isn't it, old man?" Kyle chided.

"Ham, we all have our own minds and can make our own decisions," Polly
interjected, "What this is isn't any worse than what Tonya does at the
Legation every day. We all have to take risks."

"Yeah, and how many different I.D.'s do you have in that wallet of
yours, Mr. Ex CIA?"

"Kyle, stop baiting him..." Robin hissed, conscious of the alcohol on
his breath.

Elizabeth stood in the midst of the arguement, merely looking miserable.

"Going undercover for the resistance effort is one thing. Going
undercover so that Playboy Bates here can get his rocks off on the golf course with
his father's gold digging, rich friends is something else. What, you dress
them up all nice and play "Pretty Woman" with them, parading them around in
front of all your high end pals, is that it?"

"Are you insinuating that we're whores?" Robin spat angrily. She'd seen
the movie Ham referred to, and she felt her blood pressure rise a few
points.

"You know what I mean," Ham shot back in return, his gray eyes snapping
                                                                                   64


angrily.

"I just told you what we do, you asshole," Tonya snapped.

"This is crap. I don't have to defend this," Kyle said, "Polly, do you
want to be Robin's back up?"

Polly looked down at the array of dresses, wrinkling her nose a bit,
but then she squared her shoulders.

"I'm in," she told him.

"I can't promise you that it will be thrilling. In fact, some of these
things are an absolute bore. But, like Tonya said, keep your ears open...but
act dumber than a box of hair, and you'll do great."

"Great, I got it. Ears open, mouth closed...legs optional..."

Gasps came from all corners of the room, especially from Elizabeth.

"Oh, come on, you guys know what I mean. Not that I really would, but
I'm supposed to act like you'd expect a girl my age on the arm of the
richest bachelor in LA would act...."

"Yeah, I get it," Kyle chuckled.

"I don't think it's funny," Elizabeth pouted.

"Don't worry, Elizabeth. I don't either," Ham said.

"Lighten up, for Pete's Sake!" Polly cried, "Geez, Elizabeth, try
working on not being so literal! You know, we're all doing this for you..so that
the reporters will stay out of your hair. Chill out!"

Elizabeth nodded, but looked hurt at Polly's chastising remarks.

"Get off her case, Polly," Robin said, "This is hard enough as it is.
She doesn't need you riding her back and telling her how to feel. Maybe she
does need to learn not to be so literal, but you could try learning some tact!"

"Kiss off," Polly muttered, more to herself than to anyone else in the
room.

"I'll be your date, Kyle....."

That declaration came from Katie, who stood in the door way separating
                                                                                    65


the living room from the hall leading to the bedrooms. She wore a syrupy,
almost evil grin that was quite well suited for a preteen girl.

"Hey, you know what? If you were a few years older, I'd take you in a
heartbeat," Kyle said with a smile.

"I never thought age was an issue with you," Ham mused from his corner
of the room.

"Alright, you son of a bitch, I've had it. Get what you came for and
get lost."

With a steely look, Ham dropped the I.D. and the papers onto the coffee
table. Then, without a word, he turned his back on everyone in the room
and made his way, unescorted, to the front door, letting it slam closed behind
him.


Chapter 6 Best Interests


"I'm not aware of too many things,
I know what I know, if you know what I mean.
Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box,
religion is the smile on a dog..."

~~Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians 'What I Am'


Three hour sessions, three times a week was all Philip was granted in
which to begin Madeline's training in the Physical Masteries. It was less
time than he would have wished for, but in all honesty, it was even more time
than his busy schedule would permit for under normal circumstances. Fortunately,
with the addition of Security Chief Dale to the staff, some of the everyday
security concerns were no longer his to worry about. Philip was free to worry
about security issues on a much larger and more formiddable scale. For the
past few weeks, he'd been able to postpone or cancel many of the engagements
that would require him to travel off site so that he could concentrate on
Madeline's training. It wasn't that training the hybrid was so horribly important
to the mission, or for any purpose of the 5th column, exactly. What mattered
was the chance he was getting to observe her and mold her mind.

Dressed in a blue combat tunic, Madeline was a much smaller challenger
than Mike Donovan had been on that fateful day when it had been discovered
that the supposedly deactivated particle swords they'd battled with were really
charged. She had not even the slightest hint of mistrust in her eyes as
                                                                                       66


she picked up the weapon and visually inspected it, testing out it's weight in her
hand. Donovan had been dubious from the start. Even today, Philip still felt
a shiver of apprehension as he hefted his own sword. He'd taken every safety
measure to ensure that these swords were not charged; yet he knew he had that day
several years ago, too. Never one to err on the side of caution, Philip
finally decided to take one last step to ease his troubled mind.

"Ma'thal'ee, give me your sword," he ordered her, using her Sirian name
as any proper Master would. It seemed more fitting in the classroom
environment, to him.

Her head jerked up in surprise.

"Yes, Ay'Yath'te," she replied, properly referring to his title as
"Master" in the training. Slowly, with deliberate movements, she handed her
sword to him by it's hilt as he requested, a puzzled look spreading on her face that
she did not dare express as a verbal question.

Once he had both swords, Philip slid them on the smooth, tiled floor
into the wall. When neither of their tips caused any sparks or explosions to
erupt upon impact, he was satisfied that they were not charged. He retrieved
them and returned Madeline's sword to her.

"It is a safety check," he told her earnestly, "When doing battle with
deactivated swords, sometimes it pays to make certain they really are
not charged."

He handed her sword back to her and assumed his battle stance.

Madeline immitated his motions, preparing herself. Her master always
made the first move. She, as the challenger, had to be ready.

Each and every time, Philip had beaten Madeline. After each defeat, he
used her downfall as an opportunity to teach. The first match of today was
no different. Madeline was getting better, no doubt, and she showed great
promise, in Philip's opinion. As of yet, though, she was still lacking the muscle
mass in her upper body to hold off the strongest of his attacks. To compensate,
he noticed she was developing some cunning. Her evasive tactics combined
fast stepping with a creative approach. Philip found himself struggling to
keep up with the pace she set. At first, he'd tried to slow her down. Now, he
realized that this was simply her style; and it could well serve to her advantage if
she could keep her tempo without tiring too soon. Any opponent Madeline
faced might become winded and befuddled before she did, and therefore have less of
an opportunity to overwhelm her with their superior strength.

Upon her defeat, Madeline fell to her knees and Philip tapped the tip
                                                                                   67


of his sword to the slight raise of a crest hidden beneath the hair, covered
by the helmet she wore. This was a sign of mutual respect. When she rose to
her feet again, she locked eyes with Philip.

"Ay'Yath'te, what can you tell me about my defeat this time?" she
implored, trying not to let the disappointment break through.

"This time, Ma'thal'ee, I wish to commend you on your fight, and give
to you encouragement. In a battle, there is always one that wins, and one that
does not win. That is the way of it. Today, you were very nearly my equal.
Continue with your speed, Ma'thal'ee, for it is your strength. You move with the
swiftness of a Kezssess. Do you know what that is?"

"No, I do not," she responded in awe.

"A Kezssess is a fish that used to populate the waters of our Homeworld
back in the days when there was plenty of water. It was considered a prize
catch, because it swam so swiftly. I remember once, when I was small, I was
taken to an Aquarium in the Captial City of Merkat. There, in the waters, they
had but one Kezssess fish in captivity. It darted in and out of the rock beds
so quickly that it was nearly impossible to see. You, Ma'thal'ee, dart in
and out of the sword's reach like the Kezssess. One day, you will be all but
impossible to catch."

A strange, light color of pink began to spread across her cheeks. She
smiled gratefully at Philip's compliment. He then instructed her to practice a
few sword drills, while he watched. It afforded him the chance to rest. He
felt somewhat shamed not to have the energy that Madeline possessed. After
all, he had not even come into Prime Molt yet, which signalled what humans
typically called middle age. Looking at his red combat tunic, Philip realized
that, in his time on Eath, the Land of Plenty, he'd put on some weight. In his
current physical state, it really was a wonder Madeline hadn't bested him yet.

After allowing Madeline a brief respite, they refreshed themselves with
a glass of water. Then, it was time for the final sparring match. As they
prepared to do battle, the doors leading to the gym slid open. Diana, flanked by
two guards, entered. Madeline slid a nervous glance over to her mother and
then to Philip, letting her sword lower. Philip let his down too, turning to
Diana. He made no attempt to disguise the annoyance in his tone as he addressed
her.

"I am in the middle of training, Diana. I hope this is important."

"Madeline's training is of utmost importance. Please do carry on. I do
not wish to be an interruption."
                                                                                       68


"Well, you are interrupting, because I do not recall requesting an
audience." Philip stated dryly.

"Keep in mind, dear Philip, that challenges of the Physical Masteries
are often times viewed as athletic competitions to be observed by others. I
wish to observe."

If it were proper to do so, Philip would activate his sword and use the
nuclear tip of it to wipe the smug smile off of Diana's false features.
However, he could only swallow his venom and keep good form before his student.

"Very well, then," he responded, hefting his sword once again. Turning
his back to Diana, he faced his challenger. Madeline looked mortified.

"Ma'thal'ee...." Philip urged.

Her eyes, fringed with thick, real lashes, were opened wide. As she
lifted her sword to meet the challenge, the look in them changed from utter
mortification to something else. Philip recoginized the look, suddenly.
It was the competitive streak in her finally surfacing; the hunger to win. A smile
threatened on his face, but he supressed it and made hs first move.

The battle was swift, and though Madeline was skilled, Philip saw his
opportunity to direct a jab of his sword to her midsection. However,
just before the tip of his blade could touch, her sword crashed down on his, cutting
his blow. Though her strength was not quite enough to direct his sword up and
away from her personal space so that perhaps, she'd have the chance to put him on
the defensive, she quickly put distance between herself and the tip of his
sword, preventing him from making another lunge from her recovery. When Philip
did make his next lunge, Madeline was ready. With a quick, evasive turn,
she avoided his attack altogether, and finally managed to bring her sword into his
defensive ground. When and if she could get there, Philip realized
Madeline could be a formidable opponent. She stayed close to action then, and she
employed the same quick, dizzying motions with her sword as she did with her feet.
One moment, she'd jab high, the next low, but one could never quite read
what her intent would be. Though her thrusts were not particularly strong,
Philip knew that practice would help this. There was no time for him to smile at her
progress. In fact, he'd almost forgotten Diana was there. Then, suddenly, he
remembered.

It was almost an unconsious decision for Philip. Madeline was not so
skilled yet that she could think and fight at the same time, but Philip had to
be to some extent, or he would not be qualified to teach. Though his intent
would never be apparent to his student or to anyone watching, or so he hoped,
Philip allowed his defense to relax just a slight amount. A minimal amount
was all it took for Madeline's swift jabs to finally hit home. Philip felt the
                                                                                       69


impact on his shielded combat tunic, and he lowered his sword to acknowledge his
defeat.

Madeline stood back for a beat, blinking in surprise as Philip
respectfully lowered himself to one knee. He patiently waited for her to 'absolve'
him, as the ceremony went, fondly remembering his own, first ever victory
against his Ay'Yath'te. Finally, with great pomp, she raised her sword and touched
it lightly to his crest. He'd almost expected, with her exhuberance, to be
bludgeoned with it. Instead, it felt nearly like a loving caress. Philip realized
what a big moment this was for her, and a part of him felt badly that it was
really only a partial victory, for he'd 'let' her win. But, the pride that
showed on her face; that gleamed through her contacts, told him it had been the
right decision. Madeline had needed the confidence. Perhaps, next time, her
victory would be real and complete. Suddenly, Philip found himself wondering if
his own Master had thrown that long ago competition that he'd won.

"Impressive, Ma'thal'ee. Most impressive. I congratulate you," Philip
told her after he'd risen to his feet, "You have won your first match, and
have proven that you can defend yourself, and even defeat a challenger in
the Physical Mastery of Particle Charged Swords. In addition, your sportsmanship and
attitude are exemplary. You will be receiving your first Mastery Pin as
soon as I can get it for you. You are dismissed."

Madeline bowed respectfully, sheathed her sword, and turned to Diana as
if to, at least, visibly acknowledge her presence in the room. Diana
regarded her daughter cooly and did not give up her spectator's seat in the gym. It
was if she still had business to conduct with Philip. Madeline wasted no time
attempting to engage her mother into conversation. With a weary sigh,
she exited the gym, into the anteroom to shower and change back into her uniform.

"Were you not even going to congratulate the victor on her win?" Phiip
asked Diana caustically, once his student had disappeared from sight.

"It's a waste of time if you let her win, Philip. Frankly, I don't
think you challenge her enough," Diana returned.

"What makes you so certain I let her win?"

He asked this question without meeting Diana's gaze, but he managed to
keep his tone even, and it did not betray an ounce of the lie in it.

"I remember the competiton between you and Mike Donovan several years
back, in this very same gym, using swords of the very same type. You and
Donovan fought as though you'd been enemies for years. The way you fought
Madeline, I'd think you were lovers!" Diana huffed.
                                                                                         70


"Perhaps the difference is, Diana, that I am not using charged swords
when I am challenging Madeline, although I'm quite sure you had something to
do with the swords being charged when I fought Donovan. Could it be that this
is why you found the challenge between he and I so....fascinating? Because,
for what you knew, it really was to be a duel to the death?"

"Dear Philip, you admitted to being the one to prepare those swords
yourself. How could I have had anything to do with that?" Diana asked, her voice
coated with syrup, "You should be so lucky that I allow you the opportunity to
train Madeline."

"Someone must, and you certainly are not qualified to, nor are you
qualified to judge my methods. The Physical Masteries are not a waste of time. Do
not sit there and tell me that you have never had to use them to defend
yourself, at the very least.."

"I would be dead if any of my trainers had let me win during any part
of my instruction..." Diana bit.

"Brute strength is not the only strategy to winning a battle. You might
wish to consider the method I employed in today's lesson as a teaching tool.
Of course, since you only teach by rote and force, I highly doubt that you
could accept any other method of delivering a lesson to a student's mind..."

"Oh, really, Philip? And, precisely what were you hoping to accomplish
by allowing Madeline to win today?"

"Confidence. Sometimes, Diana, when one is up against an opponent who
is obviously more skilled, larger, and undoubtably stronger than you,
confidence may be the only thing you have. I want her to have faith in her abilities,
because, thus far, she's proven to me that she has quite a few abilities to have
faith in. Now, she simply must believe it herself."

Philip was quite surprised to find that Diana had seen through his
ruse. He watched her signal to her guards that she was ready to take her leave
from the gym. Still holding his sword, he would have gladly speared her
retreating form with it, but once again, he found himself doing nothing but swallowing
a mouthful of venom. In fact, he knew Diana was safe from his sword
unless she told Madeline that he'd thrown the competition. In that event, he'd make
certain it was charged before he sloughed her scales with it. Meanwhile, as he
headed for the showers himself, he could only smile at the 'teaching theory'
he'd used as his arguement with Diana. It had sounded quite convincing. Then,
again, perhaps it was because it really was rooted in the truth. One could
thank the members of the Los Angeles Resistance for that. To imagine how they
tirelessly fought against the tyranny of the Leader's onslaught...
                                                                                        71


Yes, a foe much more advanced, larger and stronger than they are...And
so it would seem that self confidence, or that belief humans called faith
would be all they'd have to fall upon to aid them in their defense...

And they hadn't fallen yet. Indeed, it was a principle Philip wished to
indoctrine into his lessons for his student.
***************************************************************

In recent weeks, Madeline lost count of the number of nights she'd
managed to sneak out of her confines. Five, perhaps six, at least. Almost as
often as Security Chief Dale came to spend the night in Mother's quarters. It
seemed that the exertions of their intimate overatures left them too tired to
stir much at night. Madeline was filled with a profound sense of relief
that overrode any fear that she could get caught. Her existence now had it's own
purpose. She found a rhyme and a reason for life that went beyond what she
learned from stolen moments watching television. Nigel, of course, was that
reason.

During the day, she thought about him almost constantly. She was able
to perform her daily duties and take her lessons almost automatically.
With the exception of her Physical Masteries training, which she'd come to look
forward to, there was little change to her routine. If Mother could sense, with any
intuition that might exist between mother and daughter, that Madeline's
mind was elsewhere, she gave no indication. Madeline supposed that it was
because Mother was equally distracted. She never spoke about her relationship with
Security Chief Dale, nor did Madeline dare ask. However, Madeline's intuition
did tell her something in this regard. She was beginning to suspect that Mother
was entranced with him. What else could explain the differences in her
moods? Mother was calmer these days, even when Phillip visited. There were
fewer displays of her temper. She had fewer episodes of staring off into
orbit when she thought no one was watching, and talking to beings that weren't there.
Even when she did space out, she seemed more relaxed somehow. But Madeline
also sensed an edge beneath the calm, as if it were a very fragile thing.
One upset could tip the whole stack of chips, causing Mother to fall apart.
Therefore, Madeline did her best not to act any differently. She spoke to her
Mother only when directly addressed, (And only about topics that were directly
brought up) and made certain not to exhibit any difference of opinions. Most
importantly, of course, she made certain that she crept out of her bed
at night only on the occasions when Mother had company, and only when her instincts
told
her that it was safe to do so.

Physical Masteries training was a different story altogether.
Ay'Yath'te Philip demanded every ounce of her attention, but amazingly, she found
herself willing to surrender it. It was almost a relief to have something to
pull her mind away from the misery of missing Nigel's company, or the endless
                                                                                           72


fretting over wondering if Mother suspected anything. Also, the constant
kinesis proved to be helpful for relieving her pent up energy reserves. Never before
had she realized how good it would feel to jump about with adrenalin pumping,
heart racing, feet flying, sword slashing....And this was not sneaky. She had
permission to do this, and it was almost as good as her times with
Nigel. Almost!

Unfortunately, her classes only consumed a total of nine hours of her
week. The rest of her days, and especially her nights, were intolerably
lonely. Though afraid to be caught stealing out of bed at night, Madeline
decided that the consequence of getting caught was outweighed by what she'd be missing
if she stopped her sneaky late night rendevous. The Los Angeles Mothership
might only be a small spec of existance in the whole scheme of the universe,
but for Madeline, it was a huge caulderon of activity. She always sensed when
Nigel would be there waiting for her. So far, she'd been fortunate. Every
night she'd been able to slip away, Nigel had been free.

Together, they pursued the many activities available in the Recreation
Lounge. He told her about his position, and it's duties. Once in
awhile, he'd make a vague reference to his sister, Lydia, who he explained, formerly held
Chief Dale's position. However, Nigel would clam up quickly when discussing
anything regarding Lydia. All Madeline knew was that she had fallen
ill, but was still alive. Any more information, she felt, might be too painful for
him to discuss. There was a sense of sadness that seemed to surround Nigel
whenever Lydia was mentioned, as if he missed her terribly.

Madeline didn't want to strain their new found friendship by asking him
questions that could be too personal. All she dared to do was touch
him lightly or give him a sympathetic look, as if to suggest that she understood, and
she wouldn't pressure him. In exchange, there were things, she knew, that
he was refraining from asking her. She had no idea what they could be, but
she did know that she was forced to withold many secrets from him. As far as
Nigel knew, she was merely Diana's poor, newly assigned lab assistant, and that she
was just as Sirian as he was beneath the surface. She was terrified of
what he'd do or think if he learned that she was not. It troubled her to lie to
him, even if many of her lies weren't actually spoken. However, she
suspected he kept secrets too, so she felt a small amount of justification. Whatever the
case, she hoped that he'd still be her friend if and when all truths were
revealed.

The paradise Madeline found in Nigel's kiss was nothing compared to the
heaven she found in his arms. Lately, they spent more of their time
together in Nigel's personal quarters, where they were less likely to be seen. He
seemed to understand that word could not get out to Diana that Madeline was on
the prowl at night. Sometimes, they played games, or watched the silly,
poorly made horror movies on his television monitor. Other times, they talked,
                                                                                       73


occasionally partaking of small quantities of alcohol to ease
themselves into conversation. They also recreated the night they'd met, dancing
together slowly to Sirian songs, kissing softly.

Then came the magical night that Nigel had shown her just what all
those yearnings in her body desired. One slow dance had led to many kisses
and caresses, that had finally progressed beyond the realm of anything
Madeline had previously experienced. Nigel's hands tenderly touched the places that
had evoked such strong reactions from her before. Then, his hands and his lips
had found other places. She found herself unable to resist his touch; her body
responding without her mind capable of sorting through the sensation
barriers to reason with her senses. Madeline had the vaguest of understandings of
Nigel's desires from her viewings of daytime dramas. When the dawn of
knowledge finally presented itself as a concrete understanding, she whispered to him that
it would be her first time. He had paused, gazing thoughtfully into her eyes.
Then, he'd asked her if she wanted to stop. She knew, with every fiber of
her being, that she did not, and she told him so.

Now, lying in his arms, Madeline was glad she'd allowed him to show her
what her body and mind so desparately demanded to know. There was no
turning back, now. She knew what it was like to share a moment of time with Nigel,
and be so close to him that she could feel their hearts beating in sync.
Whatever he didn't tell her aloud, she could hear in his sighs when he loved her.
She knew what it was like to be a part of someone; stitched to Nigel
through their shared experiences, in such a way that even geographical distance
couldn't truly separate them. If this wasn't love, Madeline couldn't comprehend
anything else that could be, and she was willing to risk anything for it.

"What are you thinking?" Nigel murmered to her in the moments of
silence that concluded their latest rapture. He held her close to his chest and
nuzzled her ear, softly flicking his long tongue against it. She shuddered at
the pleasant, but ticklish sensation. A slow, hesitant smile spread on her
lips that Nigel couldn't see.

"Nothing much, really," she sighed, "I am just floating."

"Floating, hmm?" he responded as he continued with his ministrations to
her ear, "I only wish I could see you float like this more often..."

"Me too," Madeline answered, feeling her heart drop in her chest like a
balloon made of lead. There always had to be something to remind her
that they might not see each other again for a few nights.

"Why is that so? I mean, why does Diana keep such a chokehold on you?
I understand the importance of scientific research, but if she is boffing
Dale, she is hardly giving all of her time to it. Why does she expect you to?"
                                                                                         74



"I do not know," Madeline answered, keeping her reply as brief as
possible. Lying to him was even harder when they rested together in the dark,
with nothing separating their bodies but the thin layer of his psuedo-skin.
She wondered what making love to him would be like if he didn't wear it.
The thought of being even closer to him like that appealed to every sense she had, but
she didn't dare suggest it. He might then want her to remove hers, and
what a shock it would be when he discovered she couldn't!

"Oh, come on. You must know something," he gently chided, but there
was a seriousness in his tone that Madeline could not ignore.

"She has not told me exactly why," Madeline stated. At least, this
was mostly true, "It could possibly be because I have recently started my
training in the Physical Masteries, and she feels that it is taking my time away
from the lab..."

"I think I may have some idea. There is something I have wanted to ask
you, but I was not sure if I should."

Madeline felt a small panic rise to her chest, squeezing the beats of
her heart out in static bursts.

"What did you want to ask?" she heard herself respond. Through the
pulse hammering in her ears, she could barely hear herself think, let alone
speak.

"You are related to Diana somehow, am I right?" Nigel continued, "I
have seen quite a resemblance lately that I never noticed before. You are
nothing like her, but you look shades of her...at least your outer appearance
does.."

Madeline's jaw refused to work. Somehow, it locked up as every muscle
in her body tensed simultaneously. He knew!!!

Nigel turned her over on her back, and gazed at her from up above.
Now, he was able to see the expressions on her face, and she could see his. A
look of curiosity and perplexity had been there before, but slowly, his
expression changed to one of mild distress.

"It is alright, love. You can tell me. I know there has to be a reason
she is so protective of you. It took awhile for me to figure it out, but now
I understand. You see, even though my sister is older than I am, I still
feel very protective of her. I would guard her with my life. Diana treats you
the same way. She is your older sister, is she not?"
                                                                                       75


Tears threatened to spill out of Madeline's eyes and onto her cheeks.
She squeezed her eyes tightly shut to hold them back. There was no way to
avoid lying to Nigel now. He couldn't know the truth. Not yet. Without
speaking, she nodded in the dark. It was one thing to lie, but it was something else
entirely to hear herself lie. Nigel eased himself down onto her body,
supporting the majority of his weight with his forearms on the mattress.

"Well, I can certainly see why you would not want this to get around.
I suppose it would be hard for you to make friends if everyone knew Diana
is your sister."

At the sound of his voice, Madeline forced herself to open her eyes.
Nigel had a slightly amused expression on his face, seemingly signalling that
the worst of the night's revelations were now passed.

"No, I do not wish to cause trouble for anyone," she replied after
taking a deep, calming breath.

"Well, the trouble is not for me," Nigel told her, "There may be some
here who would judge you because of your sister, but I would not. I know
you are different."

Madeline found herself wondering just how different Nigel suspected she
was. His comments also opened up a new avenue of consideration. She sensed
that there were many working on the ship that Mother did not care for.
Nigel was one, and Phillip was another. Somehow, Dale had managed to gain her
favor, but Madeline was not sure why. It never really occurred to her that those
feelings of dislike were mutual until Nigel so blatantly brought it
into the open. She wondered why.

"Please, tell me, Nigel, why it seems that no one likes Diana?"
Madeline had never made a reference to her mother by her assigned Earth name, and it
felt odd, "I know she is temperamental and difficult sometimes, and well..."
A few more words were attatching themselves to her ever broadening
vocabulary, and some of those words were beginning to answer that question.
"Well, and bossy, and stubborn like a mule...," she continued,
pointlessly.

Nigel began to chuckle, his chest heaving lightly against hers.

"Among other reasons, that I am sure she does not advertise to her
poor, impressionable sister. I do not want to risk offending you by telling
you what most think of her, so maybe I should bite my forks."

"You would not offend me," Madeline responded honestly.
                                                                                      76


"Frankly, my dear, she is a bitch. She has done some rather
questionable things in her career that I am sure you know nothing about. I rather
think she is a little insane, myself."

"Is that why she talks to the walls?" Madeline asked, and then she bit
her lip. Nigel said nothing in reply to her question, which she supposed
was just as well.

"I worry about you. She may be your sister, but if you cross her, you
might wind up just as dead as I hear Pamela and John did. Or as dead as I
almost did."

Madeline wasn't sure who Pamela and John were, but the implications of
what Nigel told her hit her like a block of cement. Somewhere, in the back
of her subconsious, had always been the realization that her mother was
capable of terrible things. That suspicion was what had always kept her in line
before. A vision imprinted itself in her mind. The phantoms of the man and the
woman she'd seen in her mother's quarters and office...Pamela and John. She
knew, without question now, that Nigel was telling her the truth. She looked
at him, regarding the last statement he'd made. as she prepared to ask him
about it, a shudder crept up her spine, causing her body to tremble. Nigel's arms
tightened around her.

"Now, I have frightened you," he sighed, "but I just worry..."

Madeline reached her arms around Nigel's neck, pulling him closer.

"I think I already knew," she whispered. The truth was, there were
some things she just did not want to know, and invisioning her mother
torturing Nigel was one of them.

***************************************************************

She hadn't meant to fall asleep. They had changed the subject to
something cheerier, and she'd told him of her victory earlier that day, where
she'd earned her Swords Mastery Pin. Then, they'd had made love again, if simply to
chase the chills from their hearts. Exhausted, she had rested her head
against the pillow for just one moment...

And woke up to realize that over an hour had passed. It was nearly
dawn. Mother would be awake soon.

There was no time to rouse Nigel. She slid soundlessly into her
uniform, straightened the tangled locks of her hair, and hurried through the
corridors. She paused outside the door, her senses reeling, her mind still fuzzy.
Then, she gathered her reslove and keyed open the door to her mother's
                                                                                       77


lab/office.To her shock, she found her mother, sitting in her office chair, a
steely look of anger on her face.

"So, there you are. Perhaps you'd be so kind to tell me just where,
precisely, I did not give you permission to go?" Her tone rose an
octave as anger punctuated the final words of her inquiry.

Madeline felt nausea rising in her stomach. She realized, to even more
horror, that Phillip was present too. His expression was only somewhat
softer than Mother's. There was simply no way either one of them could know the
truth. She'd have to lie again, and hope she could get away with it. She
wondered what was in store for her if she could not.

"For a walk," Madeline replied lamely, "Sometimes, when I cannot sleep,
I go for a walk to the banquet hall and back."

As she spoke, Madeline felt the heat of her mother's scrutiny. Was it
her imagination, or did it seem that she had the eyes of a predator? She
saw a sudden flick of her mother's reptilian tongue; the forks of it testing the air
ever so quickly.

"You're lying," Diana stated, bluntly. Her gaze did not flicker from
Madeline's face for a moment.

"No I am not," Madeline boldly countered.

"Where have you been?" Diana rose from her chair and stood directly in
front of Madeline. She skillfully jockeyed their positions so that she had
the advantage, and Madeline was cornered in the room. There was no where
she could run to. Her mother stood between her, and the freedom of the corridor,
and Phillip blocked the other rooms of the lab/office.

"I told you. Out."

"You've told me nothing. I will have the truth, Madeline." There was
no mistaking the undertones of warning in her voice.

"I told you where I went. If you do not want to believe it, that is
your problem." Madeline was surprised at her own boldness.

The crest beneath Mother's human scalp rippled visibly. She pressed
her lips tightly together, and moved even closer to her. Their noses were
nearly touching. Madeline could smell venom on her breath.

"Don't force me to get ugly, young lady."
                                                                                       78


"That is quite enough," Phillip interjected sternly.

Diana spun on her heel to face Phillip, the anger in her eyes seeming
to explode.

"Stay out of this! I will handle my daughter's disobedience. It's
none of your concern!" she hissed.

"Quite the opposite. This is my concern. Diana, I believe this
situation has gone beyond your control."

"Excuse me? This is merely a matter of my daughter's misbehavior . It
is not a matter of high security."

"Oh, really? You've manufactured an unauthorized hybrid in this lab of
yours, and now you're permitting her to run lose on the Mothership!"
Phillip retorted.

"I don't permit her to run lose. I can assure you, she will not do
this again."

"How do you intened to do that? Lock her in your lab for the rest of
her life except for a few lessons in the gym? What sort of solution is
that? It's not natural, Diana."

"And how would you know what's natural for a hybrid? She will do as I
tell her," Diana spat.

Madeline watched the heated conversation unfold before her; a new
emotion boiling over. Loud discussions between Phillip and Mother were nothing
new. Usually, she could just observe, sometimes even becoming amused. There
was nothing amusing about this, however. Not when they were talking about
her as if she were some laboratory experiment, devoid of any feeling. It was
almost as if she were no longer in the room.

While the two pursued their arguement, Madeline saw a window of
opportunity. For the moment, Philip was not her Ay'Yath'te. Quickly, she pushed past
him and headed off towards her sleeping area.

"Just where do you think you're going?" Her abrupt motion had refocused
Mother's attention back onto her.

"To the moon, Alice," Madeline retorted, copying a line from a late
night rerun of an old show, The Honeymooners, that she'd seen with Nigel.
She had no idea what it meant, really, but it sounded good.
                                                                                          79


"I think not. We aren't finished talking yet."

"I am."

"You won't be finished until I hear the truth."

Though she was becoming adept at judging Philip's speed, Madeline had
underestimated her mother's speed of reaction. She hadn't entered
Diana's quarters yet, when she felt her mother's strong grip digging into her shoulder;
spinning her around.

"I have told you the truth," Madeline answered, and a part of her mind
felt dismayed at how easily her lies were coming, "And if you would like a
different story, maybe you should put me in that dream tank and program whatever
answer you would like to hear, like you used to do when I was smaller."

Anger was making her rash and bold. She was completely unprepared for
the sharp slap her mother delivered across her face. Pain radiated through
her cheekbones and her eyes misted over. A few moments later, a small
trickle of orange colored blood dripped from her nose. Before Madeline even had a
chance to whimper a protest, Mother had propelled her to a chair and roughly
shoved her into it. She pulled an injection device from a drawer, held it to
Madeline's neck.

"You will never succeed in lying to me. Don't forget, Madeline, my
dear, Any intuitive abilities you might possess work both ways. I may not be
able to tell where you went, but I can tell you're lying. Furthermore, I know
that you have been intimate with someone. Wherever intuition fails me, I have
other methods. I will find out where you went, and I will find out who you
were with."

Mother's eyes were colder than the implement pressed against the tender
skin of Madeline's neck.

"Diana, I object to this. You will stop this immediately, or I will..."
Philip demanded.

"Or you will what, Philip?" Diana snarled viciously, "I know how you
fight, and I know you'll let me win..."

"By the hand of Zon, this will stop!"

Philip advanced towards Diana, his hand outstretched, but his efforts
were fruitless. Now, the power struggle had shifted from Mother and Daughter
to Mother and Philip. Once again, Madeline was the pawn. With a rough
jerk, Diana yanked Madeline's hair to expose her neck. She had just enough time to
                                                                                       80


depress the air injector's button and unload a dose of whatever concoction was
contained within it before the Inspector General was able to knock it from her
hand. At first, Madeline felt nothing. Philip froze in his tracks. Diana stroked
Madeline's tresses almost lovingly, because now, she had her exactly
where she wanted her. It was time to relax her and play twenty questions. As
Diana strode around to the front of the chair, Madeline began to feel her head spin.
Little sparks of light danced before her eyes and her earlobes and eyelids
started to burn. Before Diana could elicit a single question, Madeline opened her
mouth and vomited in her own lap. Then, her world went black.

***************************************************************

She wasn't certain how long she'd been asleep, drifting in an uncertain
state of blackness, but when Madeline came to, she found herself in her
mother's bed, of all places. Little did she know that this arrangement was made
simply because it was easier for Diana to tend to her this way, as her own
bunk was cramped and small. There were several monitoring devices hooked up to
her to measure just about every bodily function she had. There were wires,
straps and electrodes attatched to her. Then, there were the painful needle
inserted into the pale flesh of one of her oddly, puffy looking hands. It was taped
in place, and it fed to a tube, through which liquid traveled from a bag,
suspended from a pole next to the bed. Madeline sincerely hoped that it was not
more of that awful injector medicine. Her neck was still sore from it, but
oddly enough, her lower back hurt even worse. When she tried to shift to a more
comfortable postition, she was surprised to find that there was yet another bag and
tube concoction constricting her movements. The bag was strapped to her
inner thigh, and the tube attatched to it was somewhere up inside of her....

She squirmed uncomfortably until she heard a voice sound from somewhere
beside her, and she realized that she was not alone in the room.

"Do not move so much, Madeline. You will dislodge the catheder or pull
out your I.V. This would not be good."

The voice belonged to Philip. Madeline managed to move her head only so
that she could look at him. He sat on a chair beside the bed, with some sort
of small computer on his lap. When Madeline acknowledged his voice, he
closed down his program and turned it off.

"Your mother is not here right now, Ma'thal'ee. She had some matters to
attend to on the bridge, so I assured her that I would stay with you
until she returns. She, Security Chief Dale and I have been taking shifts with
you for the past three days..."

"Three days?" Madeline croaked.
                                                                                       81


"Yes. I am afraid that the Procorb based truth serum your mother gave
you is a poison to you. Your body reacted badly to it, and you went into a
condition that is known as Lactic Acidosis. You may notice that your muscles feel
stiff, as if you have been tied up into knots..."

"Yes.." Madeline sighed, tiredly.

"That is from the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles. In a day or
two, you will be able to get out of bed and get walking, I suspect. Once you
can, the buildup will get worked out, and you will feel better quickly."

"Why all the tubes?" Madeline questioned, not wanting to mention to
Philip where one of the tubes was located.

"You have not been able to attend to any of your own bodily functions
while you have been sleeping," Philip answered, "But you must have food. That
is why you have a nourishment tube. It also has medicine in it to correct your
lactic levels."

Madeline nodded slowly, and Philip levelled a grave look on her.

"No one must ever give you Procorb again. It nearly killed you. Your
kidney almost shut down, and I know your Mother is monitoring it's function
very closely. However, once it returns to normal and you are recovered, I am
taking you out of here," he told her.

Madeline's eyes widened. 'Out of here' was a concept she could barely
comprehend.

"Where?" she asked, uncertainly.

"I do not know," he responded softly, "I have not figured that out yet.
But I will."

"But what about Mother? Does she know?"

"Yes, I have told her. It is no longer a choice she is allowed to have.
She almost killed you. Madeline, if only you had been awake to see the
change in her attitude in the last few days, you would be amazed..However, I
would not expect these changes to last. This is why I cannot allow you to stay
here. I feel that if you stay, your life will again be in danger. Your mother is
simply too unstable."

There wasn't really much protest she had the strength to give or
anything she could think of to say. Certainly, she could not bring up any arguements
about missing Nigel to Philip. Miserably, Madeline let herself sink into the
                                                                                      82


pillow that smelled faintly of her mother's perfume. It held the residue of
her dreams at night. As Madeline drifted off to sleep; a more real sleep
now, she knew she'd be entering a world where the images and shadows in the dreams
were not her own. She learned that Philip was right. Her mother was not stable.

A week later, it was decided, largely by Philip, that Madeline had
recovered sufficiently to leave the mothership. She was up and walking about,
looking much like normal. No more shifts were required of anyone, and Madeline
had returned to sleeping in her own quarters. Obviously, Diana did not need
to monitor Madeline's eliminations anymore, so there was no more fear of kidney
failure. With the immediate threat removed, Philip now believed that the biggest
threat to the hybrid's life was her mother.

The Inspector General waited to escort the girl off the ship until one
of Diana's shifts on the bridge was due to start. This way, there would be
less protest or manipulation. Madeline was instructed to pack a minimum of
personal belongins into a small travel bag. He then met her outside of Diana's
quarters and escorted her to the docking bay. Phillip's personal shuttle awaited
them there. He ushered her inside, sealing the hatch after they'd both
boarded. She took the passenger's seat while Phillip eased himself into the pilot's
chair. When he received the clearance, he maneuvered them out of the hangar
and into the afternoon's brilliant, blue sky. All the while, Madeline remained
silent. She'd never seen the atmosphere from such a vantage point. In fact,
she'd never been inside of a squad vehicle, or outside the confines of the
Mothership.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked, finally, her curiosity taking the
upper hand.

"I discussed this with you before, while you were recovering. I have
decided to take you to a training facility for new recruits," he answered
stiffly.

"Why am I going there?"

"It is in your best interest that I remove you from the custody of your
mother for awhile, at least. You will learn just as many valuable
skills at the training camp as you will in Diana's lab. At the very least, you may
learn the art of self defense," Phillip explained.

"How long will I be gone?" Madeline asked, a heavy feeling creeping
into the pit of her stomach, "And what about my training with you? Could that
not suffice?"

Philip said nothing as he worked with the controls of the ship, the
contours of his human guise giving away none of the emotion he might be feeling.
                                                                                     83



"Philip!" She cried, "I do not wish to go!"

Phillip snapped his head in her direction, giving her a look of
surprise.

"I fail to understand why you would wish to stay. Surely, you must not
like the way your mother treats you."

"I do not like it. But..."

"Perhaps your reasons have something to do with your absence that
morning? When your mother discoverd that you were missing, she called me in a
panic. I myself went looking for you, and I was unable to find you. I am sorry,
Madeline, but I do not accept your story of taking a walk to the
banquet hall, any more than she does. Now, I do not suppose you would care to tell me
where you were?"

Madeline replied with a sigh.

Phillip turned his head toward her again, and regarded her with a
contemplative look.

"Do you know what 'confidential' means?" he asked her.

"Yes, I think so," she responded, "It means secret, right?"

"In a way. It means that whatever is spoken between two parties is not
discussed elsewhere with anyone. I want you to tell me the truth
Madeline, and I want you to know that what you tell me will remain confidential. I
will not tell anyone else."

Madeline considered his words, chewing her lip thoughtfully.

"I can not, Phillip. It is confidential," she responded.

Another look of surprise crossed his face. He then sighed deeply.

"I am aware of certain things about you, Madeline. I know that you are
very young, chronologically, but that your mind operates on a level far
higher than what is even remotely normal for another individual of the same age.
Further more, your physical growth is also extremely progressed..." He paused
for a moment, as though he were gathering his thoughts. Then, he continued.

"I know that coming of age is a difficult time. Has your mother taken
any initiative to address any issues regarding your...maturation?"
                                                                                      84



"I am not sure I know what you mean," Madeline stated.

"Coming of age...maturing...Going into Season...the feelings it causes
inside, and the curiosities that result from it."

"I am aware that I am maturing. This needs no explaination," she said,
suddenly feeling the urge to squirm in her seat.

"Madeline, I know you have viewed television. I also know what you
watched, and why it interested you. I am aware that it may have caused certain
reactions in your chemistry...a sense of desire to experience those
things that you saw for yourself," he explained.


"No, Mother has never discussed those things with me, with the
exception of explaining the mating process and how life is created. But I learned a
little from knowing she and Dale sleep together. I learned that I did not
wish to be an intruder, so I left my room that night."

"Did you meet with anyone yourself?"

Madeline lowered her gaze. She knew she couldn't lie anymore, but
perhaps there were somethings she could admit, and other things she wouldn't be
asked.

"Yes, if it is any of your business. I know what sex is. I have had
it," she stated bluntly.

"I see. Madeline, I am not your parent, but I suspected as much, and
it distresses me. There are many ways that sex is used on board our
Mothership that have nothing to do with anything you see on your human love dramas.
At
your maturity level, I don't think you are ready for it. Further more, you
do not know if you truly are fully developed. You could be hurting yourself."

"It did not hurt at all," Madeline answered. Phillip shook his head.

"I do not just mean physically Emotionally too, my dear. Sex is
complicated, and when those who are not ready, emotionally or physically, push
themselves beyond where they should, the results can be disastrous. Having
relations together is something that a couple should consider very carefully.
Because of the dangers involved, there are safer expressions of self exploration
one could consider if one wishes to learn...."

"Self exploration? Is that why you think I did it? You are wrong!"
                                                                                       85


Madeline cried.

"You are not mature enough to be involved like this, so what other
reason could there be?"

"I am in love!" Madeline shot back. Indignant tears welled up in her
eyes. She had a brief flash of Nigel's face, hovering above hers nights
before.

Philip squared his shoulders and sighed. Yes, of course it would come
to this. It seemed that Madeline had the mentality of a Seasonling right
now, and he would have to tread carefully. And, of course, Diana was so busy
conducting her own sexual affairs that she'd taken no notice of her own daughter's
coming of age.

"Does your lover know the truth about you?"

"No, not yet...."

"Then it's far too soon. True love knows no secrets."

Madeline reflected on his statement for a minute, sniffling back her
tears. The shuttle touched down, and the engines came to a halt.

"You are wrong," she whispered, more to herself than to anyone else, "I
do love him. And he loves me."


Chapter 7
A War of Few Words

"Love, I don't like to see so much pain,
so much wasted, and the moment keeps slipping away.
I get so tired working so hard for our survival.
I look to the times with you to keep me awake and alive..."

~~Peter Gabriel Your Eyes

Phillip was troubled as the shuttle continued to glide through the late spring blueness of
the afternoon. His reasonings with Madeline did not bother him as one might expect.
After all, the more he engaged in conversation with her, the more he learned about her.
And, so it was now that he was learning that she seemed to be possessed of a maturing
young woman's mindset. It matched her physique quite proportionately, and Philip found
himself marvelling at the rate in which her mind and body appeared to keep in synch with
each other. How was this possible?
                                                                                           86


Dealing with a Seasonling's attitudes towards authority, self expression and sex were not
notions that frightenened him. One day, he'd face these very same issues with Emitha, if
he was so lucky. Diana, obviously, had not the ability to reason with her daughter's
moods and needs for self expression; and yes, even to challenge authority when the time
was appropriate. Diana, undoubtedly, had been schooled in the same era as he; where
challenges to authority were met with swift punishment. But, now Philip was beginning
to develop an understanding as to why they'd been schooled that way. Challenging
authority lit the path to individualism. Individualism led to rebellion. Rebellion, if not
tamed, could lead to overthrow.

So, where had he branched, he wondered to himself? Was his 'branching' from the
traditional, mainstream school of thought so obvious that it could lead to his discovery?
Troubled again, Philip was, for giving Madeline the gift of confidence. Yes, she would
need it, but she'd taken her very first victory and used it to go to battle against her own
mother. That battle had nearly cost his student her own life. Philip largely blamed
himself, so there would be no chastising of Madeline on his part. It sickened him to think,
for even five seconds, that, perhaps, that Diana had been right. He should have never let
Madeline win.

Then again, if Philip hadn't thrown the fight, the girl could still be within her Mother's
influence instead of on a shuttle towards a safer destination. It was a better victory for all
to let Diana believe she alone deserved the blame for all that had happened, and Philip
felt little remorse for allowing her to shoulder it. The consequences of Diana's
unacceptable behavior was the removal of her little toy, and the return of her attentions to
the matters that should concern her the most. Philip made it clear to Diana that she would
not be allowed to sway him in his decision. The only debate he even remotely considered
was any input regarding Madeline's eventual placement.

Philip had first thought of boarding Madeline on the first shuttle to Rendezvous Station.
There, he would keep her under the watchful eye of the Chief Scientist there, Mi'Alith'ca
Lavesss. He knew Mi'Alith'ca was a trusted 5th Columnist, though some of her
'bohemian' ways astounded him. She did not act as one would think a scientist should,
except for when her direct superiors were around. To make no mistake, though, she was
very dedicated to her work. In fact, Philip knew that a great deal of Mi'Alith'ca's secret
agenda concerned decoding government programming of military personnell and human
convertees. Whatever the case, he figured that Mi'Alith'ca could get a good look inside
Madeline's head and present to him a decent scenario of all that had been done to her. If,
in fact, she was beyond any rehabilitation, and was doomed to serve out her life to
Diana's ends...

The alternative was not a pretty one. Taking life was not something Phillip would do
without good reason, but he would take Madeline's if there were no other alternatives left.
He could not allow her to become Diana's pawn. Then had come the news, a couple of
days prior to Madeline's planned departure, that perhaps Rendezvous Station would not
be such a wonderful destination for her. It had come via a staticy transmission from
Mi'Alith'ca herself, informing him that his presence would soon be required. The Leader
                                                                                         87


had dispatched a V.I.P. to Rendezvous Station, and that individual would be arriving
soon. Philip quickly realized two things, upon learning who the V.I.P was. The first was
that this was a priority mission, and no training engagement would take presidence over
it. There was no way out of returning to Rendezvous Station, as someone with the
Inspector General's rank would be expected to receive the guest.

Secondly, the person slated to arrive was none other than Pa'theha Rhetatheket.
According to Mi'Alith'ca, preparations were being made for her to receive some
standardized training in Earth Languages and Culture. In addition, her presence was
being requested to train a few recruits that were soon to be deployed Earthside in the
techniques of Silent Strike. Philip wondered if any of Pa'theha's squadron of trained
assassins, known simply as "Pa'theha's Dozen" would also be along. Needless to say,
Madeline did not need to be underneath the nose of a trained, professional assassin.
Especially, one with Pa'theha's connections. In some ways, Philip considered, it could
prove to be worse than leaving Madeline on the mothership to be tutored under her
corrupt mother's ideals.

Fianlly, in order to find a suitable placement for Madeline, Philip had been forced to
mediate with Diana. They agreed upon a training camp, located south of Los Angeles.
Phillip supposed this camp could serve as a proving ground, of sorts. Here, he would be
able to observe her from a distance, and determine how many of her actions were
programmed into her by Diana's meddling. Madeline had already informed him, although
she had not been addressing him directly, that she'd spent at least one session in the
conversion chamber. Considering the fact that Diana had ample opportunity to corrupt
the child for a year now, it was a wonder the girl had any of her own mind left at all. The
training camp was located in a remote area, cut off from most civilization. It was
bordered by landscape that was close to being desert like. The site itself had once served
human purposes as a large horse ranch, but the original inhabitants had long ago
been...evacuated...

Phillip did not know too much about the camp, although he did know of i's existence. It
served to teach new recruits skills for combat, and often times, new shock trooper
regiments trained here. That much he was aware of. Sure enough, he saw a group of
cadets practicing some exercises in one of the former horse corrals. Much farther away,
in a barren field that had once served as pastureland, there were targets set up for laser
weapon training. The main house served as the camp's headquarters, and the various
outbuildings, including the barn, had been converted into bunks for the trainees. A few
more prefabricated buildings had also been constructed; the largest of which serviced as
the mess hall. Surrounding the entire complex, a force field fence had been erected.
Phillip secretly wondered if it was to keep the cadets inside...or to protect the facility
from any potential ambush from forces on the outside. Phillip did not know any of the
staff here. He highly doubted that any of them were Fifth Column.

When he and Diana had agreed on a compromise for Madeline, she had insisted that the
girl be sent here. It was the only training complex located within the jurisdiction of the
Los Angeles Mothership. If Phillip had to agree with Diana on one point, it was the fact
                                                                                           88


that he couldn't trust Madeline's placement to be in a distant locale. If the truth were
discovered about her hybrid nature, all hell could break loose. Madeline could easily
wind up becoming the pawn of another Mothership's Commander. Most other
commanders, Phillip knew, had motives that were really no better than Diana's, even if
their methods of acheiving their desired results were cleaner.

They approached the main entrance of the facility, which had once been the ranch's
homestead. The various rooms of the house now served as the administrative hub,
communications center, and classrooms. A large red flag, boldly emblazoned with the
Sirian Military Symbol hung proudly in front, fluttering slightly in the breeze.

Instinctively, Phillip squared his shoulders. Despite his Fifth Column loyalties, his
military bearing had not left him. Madeline stomped along behind him, oblivious to any
need for respectful military conduct. In fact, her mannerisms were not unlike Diana's,
when in the midst of a temper flare. Phillip knew the girl was angry about being yanked
away from her secret little trysts with some unknown crew member. He led Madeline
inside, taking her to the Camp Commander's Office. Upon seeing the Inspector General,
the Camp Commander rose from her seat, and crisply saluted. She appeared to be a
domineering woman of middle age. with a thick set to her build, and a humorless look to
her face.

"Good Afternoon, Inspector General," she greeted in a voice that revealed a gravelly
reverberation, "It is a pleasure to have you here."

"My business will be brief here, Doris. I am here to enroll the new recruit I contacted you
about this morning."

"Ah, yes. Madeline. I understand that she is to be trained at Priority One level. I have
made arrangements to accomodate her in the new session. It will begin tomarrow
morning."

"I was not aware that Madeline had been given Priority One Status," Phillip stated,
ominously.

"These are new orders I received from Diana. She specifically states that we are to
accomodate Madeline in the Priority One Tranining."

"Let me see those orders," Phillip demanded.

Doris produced the paper she'd received in a fax transmission. Phillip unrolled the flimsy
edges of the thin paper that humans used for this sort of communication, and peered at
the message. Indeed, Diana had authorized Madeline's placement in the highest intensity
training class available. He then glanced at the glowering young woman who stood
beside him, her arms crossed defiantly over her chest. Despite her outward display of
anger, there was no disguising the fact that Madeline was not made of the usual traits
common among those trained at the Priority One Level. Her build, though similiar to
                                                                                             89


Diana's, was even leaner than her mother's. This was possibly because her diet lacked as
many proteins and animal fats that a typical Sirian diet contained. In fact, Phillip knew
that Madeline's usual fare consisted of grubs, protein suppliments and fresh produce.
Diana had concocted a falsified medical condition for Madeline's file, to explain the
differences in her diet. In addition to her build, Madeline's eyes still held an innocence
that most others in her classification lacked. Hired assassins and Shock Trooper
Commanders often began their careers training at this level. Diana and Lydia had trained
at this level. Phillip was reluctant to approve the order, but he realized that Madeline just
might need intensive combat skills if she were to ever be able to sucessfully rise against
her mother.

"Very well, then. I would like to conduct a brief tour of the training facility," Phillip
stated.

"As you wish, Inspector General."

Then, Doris turned a hard gaze at Madeline.

"You will uncross your arms and stand at attention. Your conduct before me and the
Inspector General is intolerable. Consider this your only warning, Cadet."

Phillip watched as all traces of defiance were frightened off of the girl's face. Under
Doris' steely scrutiny, she did as she was told, instantly transforming from a recalcitrant
adolescent into a respectful soldier.

"Much better. That is how you will conduct yourself before your superiors from this
moment forward. At ease."

Doris then began the tour, showing them the various training areas within the
encampment. Finally, she concluded the tour back at the office. There were two men
present in the room upon their return.

"Inspector General, this is Roland, Drill Commander of Priority One," she stated,
gesturing to a short, well built man. Despite his diminutive stature, Roland was tough
looking. Every inch of his frame was corded with taught mucsles that were well defined,
even beneath his uniform and pseudoskin. Then, Doris gestured to the man standing at
attention next to Roland. "This is Sean. He is Roland's Special Skills Student Assistant.
They will both primarily be in charge of Madeline's training." Phillip's eyes, contacts and
all, nearly bulged from his head. The young man Doris had just introduced him to was
none other than Sean Donovan.

************************************************************************
************************

He was still numb from shock as he boarded his shuttle, alone at last. After he lifted off
from the encampment, he keyed a code into his personal transmitter. It would relay a
                                                                                           90


message to Lydia, who would be signalled to expect him by the pager she wore. Now that
Phillip was unburdened of Madeline, he still had a few hours before he might reasonably
be expected anywhere. He needed somewhere to go to put himself back to rights. A visit
with Lydia and his daughter could prove to be just what he needed. With his shuttle
secured at Visitor Fields, where it's presence would not be suspect, he was transported by
car to Lydia's small apartment. His Fifth Column contact would return after dark to pick
him up and return him to his shuttle.

Lydia greeted him almost enthusiastically, placing a firm palm to his shoulder in a Sirian
greeting.

"I've been worried about you," she said, allowing her hand to trail down from his
shoulder, along his chest, and finally to his belt. Then, she slowly drew her hand away.

Phillip noticed, with some sadness, that her hearing deficit was starting to affect the
clarity of her speech. It was only on a level that would go unnoticed to the humans Lydia
lived amongst, and she still hadn't lost her trademark British intonations. Just the familiar
sounds of her voice eased some comfort into his weary soul, but he still found himself
tense.

"How did your research go?" Phillip inquired.

He had known about the field data that she and some other members of the resistance had
gone to collect concerning the crivit population in the Nevada desert. It had been a
special request from Julie Parrish to appease her superiors at EcoSound. Mike Donovan
had told him about it on one of their clandestine meetings some time ago, and had also
told him about how pressured Julie felt about having to drag in resistance members to aid
her with a work project. The only solace was that EcoSound had offered to pay the
resistance volunteers. For this reason, Lydia had been more than willing to participate
when Julie contacted her. Money was a great motivator when one did not know where the
next rent payment would come from.

"It was a bloody disaster. We lost someone. Her name was Kim Chang. She was well
respected among the humans."

"Kim. That name sounds familiar. Was she not one of the plants working undercover at
the Legation?"

"Yes. Robin Maxwell has been assigned to her position, under an assumed name, of
course. She was just hired on two days ago."

Phillip's reaction to this news was fairly neutral. He hadn't ever met Kim Chang himself,
but he was sorry for the resistance's loss. He found himself immensly relieved to know
that Lydia hadn't been hurt.
                                                                                        91


A noise from the corner of the living room attracted his attention. He looked to find his
daughter, Emily, awake in a portable crib that Lydia had set up. The hatchling was gazing
over at the two of them, announcing her presence in the room with soft, growling
chortles. Phillip walked over and lifted his daughter from her confines, nuzzling her
paternally as he did so.

"Emily has not napped yet. I had just put her down when you came," Lydia said,
watching Philip tend to the baby.

"It is just as well, then. I am glad she is awake." His eyes were locked into Emily's;
allowing her antics to amuse him and relieve some of his stress. Fatherhood was
somewhat of a foreign concept to him. At first, when learning that Lydia was pregnant,
he'd hoped that their hatchling would be a boy. He'd wanted to name a son after his lost
twin brother, Martin. In addition, there had never been any female children in his family
while he'd been growing up; just himself and his brother.

Rearing females was something he knew nothing about. Male offspring required much
more training from their fathers as they grew, where as female children depended on their
mother's teaching. Men, in Sirian culture, were the defenders of the family. They taught
their sons ways to protect themselves and their loved ones from potential harm. Women,
on the other hand, were instinctually the family providers. The passed down to their
daughters all the skills for hunting and providing food for the family. Sons reared without
fathers and daughters without mothers were considered very unfortunate souls indeed.
For this reason, Phillip realized later that it was probably best that he and Lydia's first
child had hatched a girl. Emily was being forced to rely on Lydia almost as though she
were a single parent. Any son they produced would need more of his father's attention as
he grew...attention Phillip did not have the time to give right now. It was likely why he
did not feel like a father ought to feel, perhaps. Emily amused him and occupied many of
his thoughts when he wasn't attending to the countless other concerns he had. Yet, he
never really missed her until he was with her. Maybe it was a built in defense. A new
thought occured to him as he played with Emily. It filled him with a sense of loathing.

Sons without fathers...fathers without sons. Sean Donovan at the camp, growing without
his father's guidance and instruction, unable to defend himself against the horrors Diana
had subjected him to. Now, the boy teetered on the edge of manhood, perhaps less than a
year away from the age of being considered an adult. His time was running out. A cold
shiver of anxiety coursed down Phillip's spine. He hadn't told the resistance about
Madeline's creation, knowing that the information was pointless. What could they do
about a hybrid being raised on board the mothership, under Diana's close scrutiny and
supervision? He knew that some of the more militant members of the resistance might try
something stupid if they were given that knowledge. They could wind up bringing harm
to a possible innocent, or worse yet, imperiling themselves. Further more, he wanted to
know more about Madeline himself, so that he could take full responsibility for any
decisions made regarding her ultimate fate. He did not want the resistance making those
decisions for him. Maybe it wasn't fair to the resistance, but then again, Philip reasoned,
                                                                                            92


he doubted that they told him everything about the deepest inner workings of their
organization.

Now, he faced a new dilemma. Madeline had just been asigned to the same camp that
Sean Donovan was at. He'd promised Donovan, that if he ever discovered anything
regarding his son's whereabouts, he'd tell him. At long last, Philip had information for
him. He now had to debate how, and when to tell him. Any attempts to break Sean out of
the camp could prove extremely dangerous. In additon, now there was Madeline to
contend with....

The stress was getting to be entirely too much. It was breaking free of the barriers that
Phillip carefully erected around his thoughts. Lydia could tell at once that something
troubled him. She lifted Emily from his arms, and sat down next to him, holding their
daugher closely, rocking her so that she'd fall back to sleep.

"What is it, my love? Do not tell me that it's nothing I need to be concerned about. You
look like you are about to fall apart," Lydia said, her tone as no nonsense as he'd ever
heard it to be.

Phillip gazed at her, his eyes reflecting his sorrow. He didn't know if he could tell her.
She'd then know that he'd been keeping as many things from her as he had from the
resistance. His silence hadn't been designed to hurt anyone; only to protect them from
worrying about matters they had no control over. Guilt washed over him anyway. Finally,
he decided to level with Lydia as much as he dared to. There was no way he could look
straight into the eyes of his beloved and lie bold faced.

"Yes, exactly," Phillip sighed, not mentioning the other complication
on his mind. It occurred to him that if Mike were to be given a fair shot at
getting Sean back, he may need to call on a favor or two from some other 5th
columnists. He couldn't well send them in there with Madeline present.
There was simply no telling what could get back to Diana. Removing Madeline from
Diana's immediate sphere of influence was one thing. Cutting off all contact
between the two of them was something else. Somehow, he'd need to reassign
Madeline elsewhere before Sean could be retrieved. He didn't really suppose
there was much Lydia could do. He could, however toss other snippets of intrigue
her way, if only to keep her from digging any deeper for the truth.

"Have you ever heard of Pa'thea's Dozen?" he asked her, watching as she
stroked their daughter's crest in a rythmical tempo. Emily's eyes began
to droop. An ugly sneer spread across Lydia's lips, but she still continued her
sweet ministrations to their daughter without interruption.

"Who has not?" she retorted, making no attempt to hide what she thought
of the mention, "Though I must confess that I am not exactly certain what
Pa'theha's Dozen does....I have just heard of them, and...I know who
Pa'theha is supposed to be."
                                                                                 93



Philip shared Lydia's sentiment there, and knew full well that he'd
have her rapt attention in about ten seconds.

"Pa'theha will be arriving at Rendezvous Station in approximately 48
hours. According to the source that informed me, she will be trained in some
basic Earth Languages and Culture, and giving some lessons in Silent Strike
to cadets about to be dispatched to Earth."

"Oh, Dry Sacs, that could only mean one thing!" Lydia exclaimed.

"What are you thinking?" Philip questioned, wishing to hear the opinion
of the former Chief of Security.

"If she is being schooled in Earth Languages and Human Culture, she
must be getting prepped for an Earthside depolyment! Let me know the minute
she arrives, so I can leave promptly!"

"I believe that you are right," Philip sighed, "But for the sake of
Zon, Lydia, have you ever had any reason to cross Pa'theha?"

"No, not really. I remember seeing her on a few vague occasions at
Academy, but she never spoke to me."

"Then why would you need to vacate when she is deployed? It is likely
that she would never even recognize you in your psuedoskin..."

"It is merely an expression, Philip. Call it sarcasm, if you will. This
planet is too small for even one Rhetatheket, in my opinion. Having
Diana here, hovering over my head is bad enough. To have her mother here would
be..."

"Say no more, Lydia. Believe me, I know," Philip sympathized.

"Pa'theha Rhetatheket should be shot on sight. Do say you will, Philip.
She should have never permitted Diana to take a breath of air at her
hatching..."

"That is quite enough. I do not believe that this sort of wishful
banter will be useful to my mission."

For a moment, the mantle of tension Philip wore had relinquished it's
hold on him, but it was quickly returning, setting the features of his human
guise into a grim, seemingly unmoldable mask.

"You are concerned about what could be happening to Sean, am I right?"
                                                                                          94



"Yes, of course. He is Mike's son...and I am not certain how old he
is, but by the looks of him, I would say he must be getting close to being
considered an adult. I would like to see the two of them reunited while Mike
still can make legal decisions regarding any medical care he may need to
deprogram his mind."

"Oh, dear. I had no idea Sean was so old...Diana must have something
in mind for him if she's had him trained at the camp, and is now having him
assist in the training of others...When he turns 18, she can assign him
somewhere else. She could give him full instructor's status, and send him
anywhere in the world...even above the Frost Zone, since he is immune to the effects of
the red dust."

"Where it will be next to impossible for Donovan to ever find him
again."

"I could always ask Mike when Sean's date of birth is," Lydia
suggested.

"Of course, that would be the most direct approach, but it would arouse
his suspicions, and he might..."

"Suspect something and go off the deep end. You are right," Lydia
finished for him, "Well, then, you just may have another opportunity, but you
would need to ask a discreet favor of someone..."

"Nigel," Phillip announced, almost as though he were reading Lydia's
mind, "but I cannot send Nigel down there without a good reason. It would be
too risky, and Diana would suspect something."

"You do not have to send him down there, per se. Just have him do what
he does best...hack into files. He may be able to pinpoint some specific
information about any plans Diana may have in regards to Sean. If
something seems urgent, he will know how to contact you at Rendezvous Station."

Finally, some helpful solutions had been presented, and Philip exhaled
deeply. It was not an end to his dilemma, but he could not ponder it
any more. Lydia smiled with a look of understanding in her eyes. Then, she gazed down
at Emily, who'd fallen asleep in her lap.

"Say goodnight. It is time for this one to go off to her little dream
land."

Philip gave his daughter an affectionate stroke on her crest and
flicked her on her cheek with his tongue, savoring the baby fresh scent she exuded.
                                                                                      95


It would be a long time before he saw her again. Emily stirred slightly as
she was jostled from lap to crib. Lydia had laid a nesting rock on the mattress
for the child and covered it with soft blankets. Instinctively, Emily inched
her way onto it and settled back down to her deep, hatchling's slumber.

The apartment Lydia leased was tiny. It had only one bedroom, but it
was all she could afford at the moment. Humans might consider the accomodations
cramped, but to Lydia, the space was quite plentiful after making due
with the cramped quarters she'd had on board the mothership. Her cabin there had
been smaller than the bedroom that she presently had now, and the
lavatory/dressing area on the mothership had roughly equalled the size of her bathroom in
her
apartment. She'd had no livingroom, dining nook, patio or kitchen.
Because of this, she had little furniture, and even fewer cooking utensils, since she
did not cook. However, she did keep a selection of fresh fruits and vegitables
in the refrigerator, and the kitchen cupboards housed her live prey cages.
She offered Philip a snack, but it soon became obvious to him that this sort of
snack was not the type she was interested in.

"I have missed you," Lydia told him huskily, closing the distance
between them with three purposeful strides. She held up her mouse by it's tail,
guiding it to Philip's mouth. As it slid down his throat, she lightly stroked
the bulge it made with her fingers.

"You know, I could swallow you whole, just like you did to that mouse,
Inspector General," she told him.

"Mmmm," Philip sighed, feeling Lydia press up against him, "I am sure
you could."

"I can be very, very bad..." she continued, her fingers seeking the
fastenings of his uniform.

"Yes, Lydia, I know just how bad you can be," Philip answered, trying
to play it straight.

"Do you? What do you suppose the punishment would be if the Chief of
Security were to attempt to seduce the Inspector General?"

Ah, yes...Lydia's favorite game, and Philip had to admit he was rather
fond of it himself. Perhaps it was sick, but...

"What would my punishment be?" she prodded, pressing her lips against
the corner of his mouth as she rubbed the length of her body against his.

"Scheming women like you should be........"
                                                                                        96



"Yes?"

"Fed to..."

"Yes? Oh, yes...crivits?"

"Did I say crivits?" Philip snapped, taking hold of her face with one
hand, forcing her to stare and him. Lydia's half lidded look disappeared in
an instant, replaced by one of shock. Then, hunger filled her eyes. She
exhaled with a passionate growl, struggling against his contraint of her; but not too
hard.

"No Inspector General, you did not," she sighed with a hitch in her
voice.

"Scheming women like you should be fed to...."

Philip let his sentence trail. He still held Lydia's face in his grasp.
Not too gently, he brought her closer to him and kissed her deeply, feeling
their tongues intertwine. Only then did he release her so that his hands would
be free. As it turned out, he needed both of them to support her weight as she
sagged against him. The force he'd used with her had filled her with so much
passion, she could barely stand.

"We will be discovered here..." he told her urgently, feeding into her
fantasy, and into his own. Closing his eyes, he could almost invision
that they were, once again, conducting a clandestine meeting on board the
Mothership.

"My quarters," Lydia panted heavily into his ear.

Effortlessly, Philip lifted her, though her height very nearly matched
his own. Once they'd reached her bedroom, Lydia regained the strength in
her legs. Facing him squarely, eye to eye, she began to remove each article of
her clothing, slowly and deliberately. Then, while he watched, she doffed
her psuedoskin. With a sly smile on her face, she padded across her bedroom
floor, disappearing into her bathroom. Moments later, she returned with a
small, clear bottle, capped with a pink top.

"I see I have only been partially sucessful in my mission. If I am
risking being fed to some unknown entity for the crime of seducing the
Inspector General, then let me stand accused for doing it right," she stated
saucily. With that, she reclined upon her bed and uncapped her little bottle. Then,
she poured a clear fluid from it onto her belly, recapped the bottle, and set it
beside her on the night stand. Philip watched, completely mesmerized, unaware
                                                                                         97


that he was holding his breath. Lydia began to slowly massage the fluid into
the scaled flesh on her abdomen. Her eyes closed to slits as she did so, and her
scales took on a glossy sheen. The magic oil she had went a long way. Lydia's
fingers worked lower, rubbing her hips and thighs until they, too,
gleamed like her stomach.

"Lydia..." Philip moaned, lurching towards the bed. As he came closer,
Lydia's oiled hand reached up and pulled him the rest of the way over
to her. He was down on top of her, breathing in the scent of the oil she'd worked into
her scales. It was a soft, delicate scent with a mineral base. Those quick,
oiled fingers of Lydia's worked the fastenings of the top half of his uniform
off, while Philip took in the pleasures of her true form. She struggled with
his belt, and he knew that he would need to assume responsibility for his
boots. Such distractions!

"I know I am breaking another law..." she panted huskily beside him, "I
know we are mandated to never remove our psuedoskins unless we are bathing.
What do you suppose the penalty is for this, Inspector General?"

"Silence!" Philip ordered her. He then again surprised her by removing
his own psuedoskin.

"You will...," he said, motioning with his eyes to the bottle on the
nightstand, "Show your Inspector General the properties of the fluid in
that bottle. It is the only way I can trust that this is not an act of sabotage on
your part..."

With a hungry snarl, Lydia snatched the bottle off of the table. She
then climbed atop him, spilling some of the oil into her palm.

"Do it...First you. Then me..."

Once again, she massaged the oil into her scales, writhing atop him as
she did so. Philip could feel her arousal surrounding him, and he filled
her with his own. Restraint was impossible after a few moments. Her scales, so
smooth and shiny, invited touching. Soon, he was stroking them as she was,
igniting more passion between them. Then, as ordered, Lydia poured a stream of oil
onto Philip's chest from her bottle of wonders. With both hands, she rubbed
it into him. Then, she wrapped her arms around him and used her squirming body
to continue the massage. Philip fell into her slippery embrace, filling
her completely, losing himself until he felt Lydia tighten around him. She moaned and
cried out his name in their native tongue, the tightening continuing around
his hardness until his release was forced from him in one huge jet of
passion. It seemed that his heart stopped in those moments and that no breath came,
but he heard his own voice whispering Lydia's punishment.
                                                                                         98


"I sentence you to be fed to me. Over and over again, until you die. I
will never be sated."

There was not much time to lie intertwined together in the
semidarkness, floating away to a shared destination of mutual peace. Lydia was asleep
when Philip slid from the softness of her embrace. Quickly, he showered,
knowing that he had to rid himself of the scent of the lover's oil they'd used. What a
shame, too. Lydia's trick had added a pleasant dimension to things that he'd
completely enjoyed. But, it simply would not do to come back to the
mothership and face Diana after he'd gone down to transport her daughter to the camp,
only to return smelling of oil and 'fresh reservoir'.

Lydia was awake and in her psuedoskin when Philip finished his shower.
All traces of her earlier hunger were gone, and now she looked serious and
almost sad. She knew his time with her was coming to an end, but Philip knew
she'd never reduce herself to begging him to stay.

"The more I think about you on Rendezvous Station with Pa'theha
Rhetatheket skulking about, the sicker I get. Please promise me you will have Nigel
on standby in the event that there is trouble....Even if there is not, I
know he will be forever loyal to you for saving his life. Whatever you ask of him,
he will do. Consider his help, will you?" she urged.

Phillip thought on the possibility while he dressed. He knew he could
trust Nigel to get the job done and not get discovered, yet he was leery
about the possibility of Nigel learning too much. If Nigel discovered that
Madeline had been sent down to the camp, he supposed it might not be the worst thing
that could happen. After all, Nigel had been at the dinner the night that
Chief Dale had been welcomed. He had met Madeline himself, although he believed
her to be Diana's laboratory aide. As one of the highest ranking members of
the Los Angeles Fifth Column, maybe it was high time Nigel learned more.
Phillip just hoped that Nigel's cover wouldn't be compromised. He was one of the few
trusted Fifth Column members with an officer's rank. Because of that, he was
required to work closely with Diana from time to time. If Diana ever suspected
that Nigel had other loyalties...

It was the same mental battle Phillip fought every day. Unfortuantely,
he'd reached a point where he would need to take some calculated risks.
There was simply no way he could continue to do this all on his own.

When his ride arrived for him, Phillip took his time kissing Lydia
goodbye. He knew, as usual, that it could be a long time before they saw each
other again. When they did, Phillip resolved that he would bring fewer
troubles to their tryst. He hated to hide things from Lydia, and it was high time
he stopped. It was time to stop giving Diana so much power over his destiny.
                                                                                     99




Chapter 8 In the Hearts of the Young


"Desire means danger,
I would never lie with a stranger.
I'm saving all my passion,
to see if it's love, or just attraction.
Only time will tell
just how well I'll get to know you.
Don't mean to lead you on,
but I want to take it slowly, slowly.

~~ Taylor Dayne Don't Rush Me



Polly Maxwell stood up and stretched, trying hard not to show her
frustration. It was getting late; close to the time when the
Bernsteins would be coming home. Today's schooling session was over. She had two
students to
contend with, and neither one of them was making great deal of progress.

Abraham was a whiz at math. Polly had no doubts he'd pass the
arithmetic section of the GED test. His reading skill were adequate, but his
handwriting was simply atrocious. She had no way of judging how well he could
express himself in written communications, because she could barely read it!

Then, there was Brandon. He'd never finished high school, because he'd
lived on the streets since he was fifteen years old. When he learned that
the Bernsteins had enlisted Polly's help to tutor Abraham for his GED, he'd
inquired if she might tutor him too. Naturally, she'd agreed, happy to see that
Brandon swallowed his pride and had put aside any potential embarrassment he
might feel at admitting that he lacked a diploma, and needed help to obtain
one. She hadn't realized just how much help he'd need. His reading skills were
just above the standard for literacy, though Polly suspected boredom was a
bigger factor than inability. His writing and spelling skills were good
enough for functional living tasks, such as filling out job applications. Math, on
the other hand, placed him at a completely remedial level.

Then, there was the goof-off factor. Brandon and Abraham were close;
almost as though they were brothers. They looked to be only a few years apart,
although Brandon was older than Abraham by 21 years. Despite the fact
that Abraham was a Starchild, and Brandon was completely human, and not even
remotely related to the Bernsteins, the two seemed to have a lot in common. Both
                                                                                       100


had been cheated out of their childhoods. Brandon had been forced to fend for
himself at a young age, and deal with the realities of adult hardships while still
living within the mind of a child. Street life had given him a tough edge,
and an advantage when it came to dealing with adversity, but had cost him the
normal development of social skills and the maturity that comes with
interacting with same age peer groups. Abraham led a sheltered existence, but his life
circumstances were forcing him to mature in a rather abnormal fashion,
just like Brandon. At just a little over one year of age, he had the body of a
gawky fifteen year old, the intellectual capabilities of someone close to
college age, and the maturity level of...a ten year old? Maybe twelve? It was hard to
judge. In some ways, Abraham seemed worldly when compared to her eleven
year old sister, Katie. Yet, sometimes, he seemed even more naive to the ways
of the world than Katie was. He still enjoyed youthful pursuits, such as
video games. He loved to play Marco Polo in the Bernstein's back yard swimming pool.
Then again, that didn't seem to be a very fair comparison of his mental age.
Usually, when Abraham engaged in these pursuits, he was accompanied by
none other than Brandon.

"Hey, Polly, I'm sorry I'm such a bonehead with this bi-nomial
stuff...I always sucked at math," Brandon apologized, with a good natured grin on
his face.

"Why are you apologizing?" she asked.

"You seem upset with us," Abraham stated. His observation, as usual,
was right on the money. Polly could hide nothing from him, and it gave her
the creeps. He was just like Elizabeth that way.

"I'm not upset with either one of you, really. It's just...well, I try
to teach you this stuff, and you guys start goofing off or spacing out."

"It's really boring," Abraham replied, bluntly but honestly.

"Yeah, I know it's boring, but it's stuff you have to know. Your
grandpa wants to enroll you in some community college off campus evening
courses this fall, and you'll never be allowed to if you don't have your GED," Polly
sighed.

"Yes, I know..., but..why is this so important? Why must I go to these
classes?"

Polly sat down and exhaled loudly. She knew a possible answer, but she
didn't know if she should speak her mind. Deep down, she suspected
that Stanley wanted Abraham to enroll in college, graduate, and make something of
himself. He wanted Abraham to be better than his father, Daniel. Polly could
remember Danny quite clearly, and she knew that he would have never become
                                                                                     101


college material. It was a shame he'd made such a good traitor to his own
people. This had only served to hurt Stanley, and it would only break his heart
again if Abraham didn't turn out any better.

"He just wants you to um..reach your potential. You know, like learn
as much as you can, so that you can make the most out of life's opportunities,"
she answered as honestly as possible.

"But what if everyone at the school finds out that I'm different?
They'll make fun of me," Abraham said, mournfully.

"I'll beat the crap out of anyone that makes fun of you," Polly said,
the spirit of her childhood tomboy days evident in her tone, but then she
reevaluated her answer.

"Abraham, you are different, and you shouldn't have to be ashamed of
it. You are very special. It may be hard for others to understand you at
first, but trust me...it will happen if you keep yourself open to it. In the
meantime, never forget that you already have friends, and we accept you just the
way you are."

"That's right. We're all a little different. I could give you
examples, but..." Brandon said. Polly's eyebrows shot up. She hadn't expected
any sort of tolerance speeches to be coming from someone that she learned had been
a skinhead not long ago.

I'm alot different," Abraham remarked thoughtfully.

"You're not different from Elizabeth, except she's a girl, and you're a
guy. I mean...well, ...No crap, on that point. But you know, there's some
girls that aren't too different from guys. Take Tonya, for instance." Polly
could tell that Brandon was rambling, and that he was getting ready to put
his foot in his mouth.

"How is Tonya not too different from guys?" Abraham asked innocently,
"She looks like a girl to me."

"Yeah, but she's a lesbian, so that makes her different from other
girls, because she digs other girls...and all of us that know this...well, we
know it makes her different, but we uh...accept it anyways....even if it is a
waste.."

"Brandon, shut up," Polly barked. It was one thing to discuss
differences, but Polly felt that Brandon was bordering on being exploitative.

Abraham looked confused. Then he looked to the other two
                                                                                     102


questioningly.

"How are you different?" he asked them, his gaze touching each of them
in turn. Polly felt herself squirming. Her differences weren't as obvious
as Abraham's.

"Well, um, I got teased in school alot because I was considered a
brain. I didn't want other kids calling me a geek, so sometimes, I tried to act
tough...like a tomboy, but I still couldn't hide the fact that I was
smart," she answered. Her response mirrored the single biggest struggle of her
school years.

"If being smart is a bad thing, then why do Grandpa and Grandma want me
to be smart?" Abraham asked.

"It's not a bad thing at all. But, it did make me different. Some of
the meaner kids in school picked on me because of it."

"Yeah, but Abraham, you gotta realize something. The kids that teased
Polly were exactly that...kids. You'll be going to classes with adults.
Most adults are well past bullying people because of their differences,"
Brandon said ernestly. Another shock for Polly. She'd heard a story about how he'd
teased Robin, Elizabeth, and Abraham's late mother, Laura, becasue they
were...different... However, she kept her thoughts to herself.

"You're different too?" Abraham asked him.

"Well, how many reformed skinhead turned grunge guys with bleach tipped
hair and pierced tongues do you know?" Polly asked with a sly grin.

"Well, um...none, really. That's just Brandon."

"Exactly. It's the differences in all of us that make us each
individual. When we grow up, we learn to appreciate those differences. It's all so
complicated, but..."

"Just be warned that there are predjudiced assholes out there who can't
accept differences in others. You'll figure that out, too, and you'll
either stay away from them, or you'll learn to stand up for yourself," Brandon
stated.

"Too bad I can't pierce my tongue like you," Abraham said, the
conversation obviously already completed in his mind.

"Wanna watch your grandpa flip his lid?" Brandon retorted with a
sarcastic grin.
                                                                                         103



Abraham said nothing, but started to close his books.

"Wanting to be someone else is a waste of who you really are." Brandon
stated, sort of dreamily. Both Polly and Abraham gazed at him and then
looked at each other. Polly shrugged indifferently.

"It's a famous quote, man. From the God of Grunge himself, Kurt
Cobain!"

"Oh, right. Nirvana," Polly replied, as if she suddenly understood,
"Kurt Cobain said that?"

"Yep, he did. I have a shirt that says so. Cobain is my main man."

"He listens to them all the time," Bram agreed.

"Look, guys, I gotta get going. Robin said she had a ride home from the
bus stop, but she needs me to stop at the store and pick up a few things
for dinner." Polly began to gather up her tutoring materials and stuff
them into her bulging bookbag, "See you two tomorrow."

Brandon saw her outside, to where she had parked the car she was
borrowing from Robin. To prevent her sister's cover from getting blown at the
Legation, Polly drove Robin to the bus stop every morning, and usually, she
picked her up there in the afternoon. This way, Robin's car was not parked at the
Legation, where a security check on license plates would betray her
true identity. It also provided Polly with four wheels of freedom, even if her freedom
was spent shuttling back and forth from tutoring sessions and running household
errands.

"Listen, Polly, uh...I was wondering if we could talk?" Brandon
stammered. He offered to help Polly with her heavy bag, but she easily swung it
into the passenger seat herself.

"What about?" she asked, barely able to hide her impatience. She wanted
to get to the store before it got crowded.

"About Abraham and his grandparents. Look, I know this book stuff is
important. Hell, I'm all for him getting a GED, even if it means I
have to get one myself to show him that it's important enough to be worth doing. But
this college stuff...I dunno. It seems to me that they're pushing him."

"That's why you're doing this? For Abraham?" Polly asked, amazement
forcing her eyes wide open.
                                                                                      104


"Well, yeah, sort of...Well, let's put it this way. I'm a total
dipshit. I'm not like you...I was never meant for the Ivy League. We both know I'll
probably flunk..."

"Well, with that sort of attitude, you will," Polly informed him matter
of factly.

"Yeah, um...back to Bram. I worry about the college stuff. You know,
there's other things he needs to be learning that are more important than book
stuff right now. And, I think I know why Stan and Lynne are pushing it so
hard...well...especially Stan. They don't want Bram to be a loser like
his old man was."

"Yeah, Danny was a real piece of work, that's for sure."

"What I'm afraid of is that they'll push Bram the same way, and he'll
blow a gasket somewhere...and wind up turning out like his pop. Or, he'll
grow up with a total complex, and be a freaked out basket case, afraid to even
take a breath for fear of letting his grandparents down..."

"I worry about it too. I know they see how smart he is. Abraham is like
Elizabeth in that way. Maybe they're even encouraged and proud. I mean,
you never knew Daniel, but I did. Even though he was older than me, I knew that
he was any dumber, he'd have to be watered twice a week. If he'd been smart,
he would have seen what the rest of us did..that the Visitors were liars, and
they were using him. I mean, Jeez...Robin can sometimes be denser than a
brick made of lead, but even she figured it out. Danny never did. The Bernsteins
tried to be proud of Danny, but there was just nothing there...."

"Sure there was," Brandon said. His tone grew very serious. "Every kid
has potential. Maybe there was a reason that ole' Danny boy turned out the
way he did."

"Are you suggesting that the Bernsteins were bad parents to him?" Polly
questioned.

"No, not at all. I can't say that they're bad to Bram, either. But...I
think they push him too hard, and maybe they pushed Danny too hard, too. You
know, if a kid grows up against expectations that are set too high and they
fail all the time, they come to expect nothing better of themselves."

"It's no excuse for what Daniel did to his parents."

"No, it's not. There comes a time in a kid's life when they have to
stop blaming their parents for their lot in life. But, I'd sure hate to see
their hearts get broken again if Bram doesn't live up to their standards.
                                                                                      105


Bram shouldn't have to, you know what I mean? I mean, sure, he should be
taught standards of decency and common sense, but he shouldn't have to live his life to
redeem his father's shortcomings, get it? How could he? The Bernsteins are
setting themselves up for a major fall if that's what they expect. I mean,
damn...not only are they talking college classes in the fall, they've been hashing
out some stuff about getting with their Rabbi and having Bram go to Hebrew
School." Brandon explained.

Polly looked up at Brandon, trying not to let her amazement show. The
sadness of the situation was so evident now that she thought about it.

"I really do know what you mean..." she started, "but I don't know what
to do about it. Hebrew School? He just learned to read English! And...how is
he going to be explained at Hebrew School at his age? I think boys have
their Bar Mitzvah's at 13 or something. He looks too old!"

"Yeah, I know what you mean. Listen, I've thought the same things
myself. I think I might be able to talk to them there. But, if you want to do
anything to help Bram, just be there for him, like you are now. He really digs
you, you know? Respects you...looks up to you. Maybe together, we can help him
steer straight," Brandon suggested.

"I'm really glad to see that you care for him. He looks up to you too,
like a big brother, I think," Polly said, "And..about your chances for a
GED. You really proved that you do have some grey matter under there somewhere.
Maybe you're destined to be a youth guidance counselor or something.
Whatever the case, don't sell yourself so short. You're worth more than that.
Besides, I think Abraham could learn alot from watching you succeed. You can,
y'know."

"Yeah, well, same to you. I mean, I know your brain is chock full of
Einstein shit, but maybe you could get a psychology degree, too. We
could open a youth center together...y'know...Guidance for Wayward Starchildren..."
Brandon joked.

"Yeah, and persucuted prodigies and reformed skinheads..."

"And the Young and the Converted..."

Polly shook her head, her mane of blonde hair catching the rays of the
late afternoon sun.

"Well, I'd better get going. There's alot of mouths to feed where I'm
going, and no food to put in them. I promised Binna I'd do the shopping, and
she'll go postal if I come back with her car and no groceries in it..."
                                                                                    106


"Yeah, well, take care, drive safe, and watch out for the Scalies,"
Brandon bade her as she climbed in to the car.

"See ya later, aligator," Polly smirked.

"By the way...I think you'd look really cute with a barbell. I could
pierce your tongue for you, if you'd like," Brandon offered.

Polly's jaw dropped and her eyes popped open.

"Dream on!" she cried, jerking the car into reverse and backing out of
her parking space. But, as she pulled away from the house, Brandon noticed
that her look of surprise had faded into a semi-smile that suggested that
perhaps she was considering the notion.

***************************************************************

When Polly got home, twilight was falling. Robin was already home, and
much to her surprise, they had company. One of the guests was Tonya,
Robin's new co-worker and fellow spy. The other was Ham Tyler. Polly tried not to
make a face as she brought in the groceries. Ugghh! He was the last person
she wanted to see on a day like this, after the arguement that had ensued
after the last time he'd been over.

"Katie, get up off your duff and help Polly with the groceries," Robin
ordered in an absentminded tone of voice. She sat at the dining room
table with Tonya and Ham Tyler, obviously discussing some event that had occurred
that day.

"In a Minute," Katie replied from the living room. She and Kyle were
engaged in a battle of Mario Brothers vs. the Koopas on the Nintendo.

"No, I mean now, Katie. You don't wanna see me get mad!" Robin
warned. The tone of her voice suggested that she and Katie had already had more
than one difference of opinion that evening.

Ham Tyler stealthily rose from his seat. Polly watched in amazement as
he stode the short distance from the dining room to the living room in
four long, silent steps. He lifted Katie up from her perch on the floor in front
of the TV, hefted her over his head, and flipped her to where she was upside
down, nearly verticle. Their noses nearly touched.

"Forget your sister getting mad...You really don't want to see me get
mad," he said, in his sternest, most no-nonsense voice.

Katie's eyes were huge, and her mouth was hanging open. Then, just
                                                                                   107


before fear may have caused her to wet her pants, Ham's face dissolved into a
smile of sorts. He began working his fingers into Katie's middle, tickling her.
She erupted into a fit of uncontrollable giggles, squirming in Ham's grasp.

"Now, get going and help Polly. The game will still be here when
you're done, unless I decide I want a chance to whip some Koopas!" He set
Katie down on the ground. Without further arguement, Katie trotted out the front
door. Polly looked at him and shrugged. She then followed her sister outside
to retrieve the last of the groceries.

Dinner was a hastily prepared pot of spaghetti, french bread and a
tossed green salad. Not a single person living in Kyle's house could qualify
as a certified chef, but Polly seemed to do better than any of the others.
Tonya, as it turned out, could cook just about anything, although she claimed to
specialize in vegitarian dishes. She readily assisted Polly in the
kitchen. With a few added spices and some garlic powder, Tonya was able to transform a
bottle of Ragu sauce into a sauce that tasted home made. She admitted to have
learning a lot of kitchen tips from a very close friend. Polly found herself
wondering what Tonya meant when she said "friend", after hearing Brandon say she
was a lesbian. It seemed that Polly's curiosity was visible on her facial
expression, because Tonya picked up on it.

"I know what you're thinking, I think...and the answer is yes," she
remarked, almost casually.

Polly flushed, feeling mortified. It was really none of her business.

"Um, well..Brandon sort of mentioned it today when I was tutoring him
and Bram," she said, trying not to trip over her words.

"I'm not surprised. Brandon has a real thing about it."

"Why? I mean, why should he care?" Polly wondered aloud.

"Well, Brandon sort of thinks it's an insult. He once told me that if
I ever slept with him, he'd convert me from being a skirt chaser," Tonya
stated. Polly almost laughed.

"That's not how it works, is it?" she asked.

"No, it's not. And even if being with a man would convert me, somehow
I don't think that Brandon would be the one. He just isn't my sort,
y'know?"

"Yeah, he sets my teeth on edge too. He even offered to pierce my
tongue today. But, I think a lot of it is an act."
                                                                                     108



"I know a lot of it is. He doesn't want anyone to get too close. It
hurts when you lose someone special, and I think he knows it, so he pushes
people away with his rude conduct."

"I think I know other people like that," Polly replied, throwing a
glance at Ham Tyler, who had resumed his seat at the dining room table.

"Uh huh..., they are alot alike," Tonya agreed.

"You seem to know what it's like to lose someone like that. The friend
you had that taught you how to cook like this...did you lose her?" Polly
questioned. She wondered if that friend had been Kim Chang. They'd
known each other for quite awhile, Polly knew.

"Yeah. I did. Brandon knows about it, too. He was there, so I guess
he knows in a second hand sort of way. I think it bothered him for more
than one reason, though. See, he had a crush on Megan, but then he found out
that the two of us were together. He was always chasing her, though, and
sometimes, he could be downright rude about it. She never gave him the time of day
that way, and I think it insulted him. Then, the Lizards killed...her....He
never got his chance with her, and it pissed him off."

"Or, maybe he was really sad, and acted pissed off, because he can't
be...or at least...couldn't let himself be any other way?"

"That's possible, I guess. Maybe he is getting a new perspective on
things, too. At least he didn't stomp around acting pissed at the world when
Kim died. I really sort of expected it from him," Tonya explained.

"Well, I'm really sorry to hear about your friend. And now, Kim. It
must be hard."

"It really stinks. Unfortunately, that's the way war is. There isn't
a day that goes by that I don't appreciate the friends I still have...even
Brandon. There's only one thing worse than losing someone you care about. That's
losing someone you care about, and that person dying without knowing
how much you appreciated what they meant to you."

When the dinner dishes had been cleared, Robin asked Elizabeth to help
Katie draw a bath. It was her way of clearing the "kids" out of the room, so
the "adults" could talk.

"I get the picture that something went down at the Legation today,"
Polly said to the rest of the group remaining at the table. Ham favored her
with a look that revealed that he felt she belonged with the "kids", and out of
                                                                                    109


the discussion.

"It's nothing, really, Poll..." Robin said, with a tone that seemed too
light to be believable.

"You're chock full of shit, too. Look, I may be your kid sister, but
the last time I checked, I was going on 19, not 9. Level with me."

"It's just strategy," Tonya said, "Your sis has managed to do a
remarkable job fitting in. If she plays her cards right, she may be in a position
to get her hands on some juicy information."

"Well, this is a good thing, right?" Polly asked, her gaze shifting to
each of the others at the table. Ham, Robin and Tonya all seemed somewhat
edgy and nervous. Kyle, sipping on a Coors, looked as clueless as she felt.

"That depends. See, it's like this...."

"Tonya, I don't really think that Polly needs to be hearing this,"
Robin interjected.

Polly rolled her eyes back in exasperation.

"You know, Robin, if something ever happens to you, I'll be the one in
charge of taking care of things...I can handle that. What I don't want are
any surprises. Whatever is going on at the Legation, I need to know about.
If the truth is something you think I'll worry about, just know that it can't
be as bad as what I'll conjure up in my imagination!"

Ham Tyler snorted his opinion loudly.

"Polly has a point," Kyle stated, "Weather you like it or not, Robin,
your sister came here to join the resistance, and she's no younger than you
were when you joined. She should know what to expect so she's not shooting in
the dark. For that fact, I should know too."

"We should pull you, Robin, that's what. This really stinks," Ham
muttered.

"No way! It would be too suspicious!" Tonya cried.

"I agree. Look, Ham, I can handle it. I just had to bring this up for
discussion, because I need some ideas on how I should deal with it,"
Robin declared.

"Deal with what, for Christ's sake?" Kyle questioned, barely able to
                                                                                    110


contain his annoyance or his concern.

"Let's just say that Robin has attracted some attention, and we're not
sure why. We don't know if he's interested in her because he likes her, or
if he is because he's suspicious of her. Personally, from what I've seen, I
think reason number one applies," Tonya explained. Kyle still looked
befuddled, but Polly caught the drift right away.

"Lemme guess...this 'he' you're referring to is someone that's tall,
dark and Scaly, right?" she asked.

"Well, I don't know about the dark part, but tall and scaly do," Tonya
replied.

"Some Legation Lizard has the hots for Robin?" Kyle asked,
incrediously.

"He's a communications technician of some sort. His name is Scott, and
yes, he has been paying some attention to me as of late," Robin answered.

"Paying some attention? That's an understatement," Tonya said, "He
asked you out on a date!"

"Oh my God!" Polly exclaimed, "No, way! You can't go out with him,
Robin...he might try to pull a Brian on you!"

"Don't worry. I already turned him down, in a nice sort of way. I
told him that I don't date at the office, especially since I'm new on the job,"
Robin said.

"Did he get mad?" Kyle asked. He'd moved his hands to his lap, hidden
underneath the table. Polly could hear him cracking his knuckles.

"No, not really..."

"Yeah, but I don't think she's seen the last of him. I think he'll
still hang around, and maybe ask her again later," Tonya stated.

"What will you do if he does?" Polly asked her sister. Robin let out a
sigh and shrugged.

"One day at a time, Poll. I have to be nice to him, for at least as
long as he's polite with me. But, I refuse to pull a Maggie Blodgett, if
that's what your worried about," she answered, referring to the resistance member
who'd had to sleep with Daniel Bernstein to get information for the
resistance.
                                                                                    111



"Don't worry. I have a plan if he gets to bugging her too much," Tonya
said. She slid Robin a knowing look and Robin shook her head slightly and
rolled her eyes.

"Well, I don't want it to come to that, but I'd rather that then the
alternative."

"Rather what? What plan?" Kyle questioned.

"Oh, come on, Kyle. It's no secret at the Legation that I'm queerer
than a three-dollar bill," Tonya declared, "And if I have to play "Prison
Matron" to get Scott away from Robin, I will. I hate the idea too, because that's
not how I operate, but it's all in the game."

"And if he still doesn't get the clue, then Robin's little gig is
up...and I'll make sure Loverboy Scott gets the message that human women are bad
for his health," Ham hissed.

Robin shot Ham a look.

"Just keep your cool, ok?" she said, "I know what to do now. I'll be
as friendly as possible with him, as long as he understands that things
will stay platonic between us. If he gets the clue, it could be worthwhile to be
on good terms with one of them...there's no telling what I'll learn. But, if
he crosses the line, I'll call for my own reinforcements."

She gave meaningful glances to Ham and Tonya. The subject was
concluded for the time being.

"Well, now that we got that 'out of the closet', maybe we should move
down to the next item on the agenda. Considering what happened last time, I'd
suggest we wait until Ham leaves, but I have to go before too long, so I need
to know the score for Kyle's next gig," Tonya announced, bravely taking the
next bull by the horns. She eyed Kyle's beer jealously, but refrained from asking
for one, knowing she'd have to drive home.

Kyle perked up, knowing, in some respects, it was safe to discuss this
matter since Elizabeth was presently out of the room. He didn't consider Ham a
problem, since he could easily boot him out of the house.

"Well, like we all agreed earlier, Polly is in. She'll need to take one
of my cards downtown and buy a dress. None of Robin's worked for her. Any
chance either of you ladies could help her with that this weekend?" Kyle
asked.
                                                                                  112


"Yeah, whatever," Robin muttered noncommitally.

"Sure. It shouldn't be a problem," Tonya agreed.

"No froofroo's or lace. I swear..." Polly warned.

"I'm thinking something classy. Semi-formal, suitable for outdoors.
It's dinner, followed with a silent auction for some charity."

"Tea Length dress with spaghetti straps and a wrap," Tonya suggested,
"Hair in an upsweep."

"Yeah," Robin added, finally showing a spark of enthusiasm, "An
amethyst purple, or maybe a topaz shade would look good on Polly. Not too dark,
because that's more for fall, but...pastel might wash her out. Medium tones
would really compliment her..."

"Pastels would make me look like the Easter Bunny barfed on me. No
thanks. How 'bout black?" Polly remarked.

"Nope. Too formal." Tonya told her.

"Christ, what is this, the Summer Fashion Preview of the Bates Vanity
Line?" Ham demanded.

"You know what this is about," Robin replied.

"So, we've graduated from Robin's closet to Kyle's Credit Cards, huh?"

"Polly, don't listen to him," Kyle instructed, finishing off his beer
and crumpling the can in his hand. The twisted remains of it were tossed
onto the table, almost as a threat.

"Oh, and by the way, Polly, I wouldn't listen to Brandon's suggestions
about getting any tongue rings. It would totally blow the gig to show up at
some snooty charity auction with a barbell in your tongue," Tonya joked.

Polly actually laughed, imagining the sight of herself prancing around
in something that looked like a prom gown, with a stud in her tongue.
Robin only managed to look mortified.

"Polleeee!" she wailed, "What's this about you getting your tongue
pierced?"

"Oh, get real, Binna! Do you really think Tonya was serious? I'm not
getting my tongue pierced!"
                                                                                         113



"You're not?" Robin asked, relief washing across her paled features.

"No. I'm just getting a big anchor tatooed on my shoulder..."

"Very funny."

"Don't laugh," Tonya remarked, propping her leg up onto the table. She
rolled up the cuff of her dress slacks, and there, beneath her hosiery, a
butterfly tattoo could be seen on her ankle.

"I have a dolphin on the upper part of my back, just below my shoulder
blade, too, so when I shop for dresses, I have to be careful to buy ones that
don't show the 'tats I have."

"Figures," Ham muttered, although his voice didn't seem to hold as much
disgust in it as one might think.

"I think it's cool," Kyle said.

"You wouldn't if she was your high flutin' society wife," Ham bit.

"This isn't helping..." Polly interjected, "I need to know what I'm
supposed to do after I buy the dress and stuff. Do I have to know which forks to
eat with and crap?"

"Relax, Polly. We'll have plenty of time to work on all of that," Kyle
reassured her, "By the time next Friday rolls around, you'll feel like
you were born knowing this. Besides, it's not a do or die operation. It's just a
dinner."

"Then why in the hell are you even bothering with it?" Ham demanded,
"It's a waste of manpower, and it's an unneccessary risk!"

"You must be getting senile in your old age, man. I already told you,"
Kyle explained.

"No, you told me that you didn't have to tell me jack shit," Ham
retorted.

"Alright, fine. I do recall it was Robin that explained things to you,
but if her word isn't good enough, I'll put it in mine. When my old man kicked
the bucket, he left me in charge of some stuff. I sold most of it, but some
of it has proved to be worth hanging on to. What I still have, I have
to...maintain, if you will. Which means, believe it or not, that I have to work. Maybe
not 9 to 5, but I still have quite a few meetings to attend, lots of
                                                                                      114


decisions to make, and loose ends to tie up. That means that I spend some time in
the public eye, with some influencial people. In order to keep these folks from
guessing too much about who I'm really spending my time with, and where the bulk
of my profits really go, I throw them off course by showing up at public
functions with...women of my creation. This serves three purposes. The first is
that it keeps the press away from Elizabeth. The second is that my 'dates' can
roam the crowd with me and listen for juicy gossip that could aid the
resistance. Third, it prevents some of my father's former associates from noticing
that I'm still single, and trying to hook me up with some society diva. Get it?"

"Yeah, and I think you just like the attention."

"I give up," Kyle muttered. He got up and went into the kitchen to get
himself another beer, clearing the crumpled can away also.

Tonya rubbed wearily at her head, and shot a glance at Polly.

"Well, I'm gonna head off, I think. Things can't get any worse around
here. What time should I be over on Saturday?" she asked.

"Any time is fine," Polly replied, getting up to show Tonya to the
door.

Ham and Robin were left at the table for the moment, and he, too, was
preparing to leave.

"Ham, just don't even worry about the charity dinner thing," Robin told
him, tiring of the spats that she'd been hearing as of late. Ham shook his
head as if he'd already dismissed the subject in his mind.

"Listen, Robin. I know this might be a crappy way to suggest this, but
I'm gonna anyway. If you're worried about that son of a bitch, Scott,
getting his way with you and knocking you up with another 'brid, come see me. Chris
and I smuggled a shipment of some good B.C. outta Canada last year, and no
one that's used it has gotten knocked up yet..."

Robin's jaw nearly hit her chest.

"'Brid?" she echoed.

"Yeah, you know...Hybrid..."

"Yeah, I know. That's sick, Ham. Look, there's no way I'm going to let
this Scott within...How dare you even suggest such a thing!"

"You know how I meant it, Robin. Everyone knows that you didn't just
                                                                                      115


let Brian have his way with you, either."

Robin bit her lip as she reflected on Ham's statement. Yeah, everyone
sure did know.

"Okay, Ham. I get your drift. But, I still maintain that Scott won't
get that chance. I won't let him," she insisted.

"You gonna believe that some tatooed Lipstick Lezbo is going to save
you?"

"Don't be gross, Ham. Remember, you are supposed to have some faith in
me."

"You're not the problem, Robin. It's the damn Scaly I don't trust," he
replied.

"For your information, I don't trust him either. That's where I went
wrong with Brian. I did trust him, and that's where he got too close to me.
It's where I gave John a decent shot, too. It won't happen again. Ever."

Robin smiled and her conviction held through enough for Ham to back
down. He made it out the door before Kyle returned, beer in hand. There would be
no more arguments for the night.


Chapter 9

Seventy Two Hours

"Running away will never make me free,
and nothing we sign is any kind of guarantee.
But I wanna hold you now,
and I won't hold you down.
I'm shaking the past,
making my breaks,
taking control if that's what it takes..."

~~Kenny Loggins I'm Free (Heaven Helps the Man)

The life of a Fifth Columnist was a trying one, so Nigel was learning. Phillip had left
several days ago for an inquiry at Rendevous Station, leaving Nigel "in charge" of
covert dealings. Specifically, he'd requested that Nigel attempt to obtain some
information about a combat training facility located on the outskirts of San Bernadino.
He clearly recalled the discussion they'd had regarding the importance of the matter. It
appeared that Phillip had located the whereabouts of the resistance leader, Mike
                                                                                       116


Donovan's son, Sean. He was being kept from his father, and his mind was being
warped.

Meanwhile, the young man was receiving intensive combat training. As terrible as it
sounded, and as much as Nigel pitied the plight of the Donovans, he had wondered if
Phillip was going slightly daft. Was it worth the potential risk to the Fifth Column to
hack into sensitive files regarding the boy's vital statistics and training regiment? He
then learned that Phillip had another reason. Apparently, the Inspector General had
been forced to place a new recruit into the facility, to shield her from any more of
Diana's influences. Once Nigel accessed the files, he learned that the new recruit was
Madeline.

So..that's where she'd gone off to.... Nigel had wondered why he hadn't seen her as of
late. It was no wonder Phillip had to pull her off the Mothership. Madeline had
confided in Nigel, the last time they'd met, admitting to him that Diana was her older
sister. Nigel had suspected as much long before she told him, and he had begun a
relationship with her, of sorts. He knew it was a dangerous game to play, but
Madeline's close and nearly constant proximity to Diana meant that she could be ripe for
harvests of information regarding any of Diana's covert activities. Nigel sensed that he
had the young woman's trust. She was naive, which Nigel had found to be surprising,
distressing, and intriguing, all at the same time. Obviously, Diana had kept her younger
sister sheltered, wanting to isolate her from the influences of other crew, and any
potential Fifth Columnists. Madeline had eventually discovered a way out of the prison
Diana kept her in, but it required her to sneak out, late at night, when Diana was asleep.
From that point forward, she had seemed quite willing to share herself with Nigel...first,
physically, but keeping somewhat of an emotional distance. Nigel sensed that she kept
her silence out of fear. Slowly, he'd begun to ease his way in, and he had felt her
resolve beginning to crumble, until...

One night, she simply did not come out. Nor the next. Or the next. Nigel didn't begin to
grow alarmed until nearly a week had passed, and he hadn't seen a sign of her. He began
to fear that she'd been caught. If so, he fervently hoped that she'd kept her mouth shut
about where she'd been, and who she'd been with. It would seem that she had. Nigel was
now almost convinced that Diana had discovered her secret absences. If Madeline hadn't
come into some kind of trouble, why would Phillip need to suddenly whisk her off the
Mothership?

However, Phillip never mentioned to Nigel that he knew of anything happening between
the two of them. If Phillip was unaware, Nigel hoped that Diana was too. For the
moment, at least, Diana treated Nigel no differently than she ever had, which didn't say
much. She'd never liked him, especially because one of her biggest foes had been his
older sister, Lydia. If she knew that he'd been sleep ing with her younger sister, even if
she never learned why, he had no doubts that she'd at least castrate him and then feed
his miserable remains to her crivits. Perhaps it was for the best that Madeline had been
sent away. The secret times he had shared with her were likely to remain that way.
Despite the fact that he'd had alterior motives for becoming invloved with her in the first
                                                                                      117


place, Nigel wished her no harm. He really had liked her. She was unique in her ways;
innocent seeming, yet sharply intelligent, inexperienced but highly curious. Not to
mention, if what he saw on the surface was any indication of what lay beneath....how he
wished that he had been able to feast his eyes on her true form. Making love to her had
been an unexpected experience, as well. He was her first, or so she'd claimed, and he
had been able to tell that she was being truthful.

Once she'd warmed up, though, ...Yes..warmed up. Lying with Madeline had been like
lying on a sandy rock, luxiuriously taking in the rays of the warm Sirian sun. It seemed
to him that she radiated a heat that he had begun to crave. Holding her in his arms
chased the chill away from his lonely and trecherous lifestyle. When flicking his tongue
against her skin, he fancied he could even smell that warmth, and it would intensify as
her passions were aroused. Sighing, Nigel shook himself out of his reverie. Perhaps all
he'd known with Madeline had been intensified simply because he had gone far too long
without a lover in his bed. Now, Madeline was gone, and with her, all of the secrets she
could have imparted to him. Gone too was her warmth. All Nigel had left were
memories, and the cold hard facts that registered on his computer monitor. Nigel forced
himself to concentrate on the task at hand, warning himself of what could happen if he
wasn't careful and didn't hurry. There before him was the information he sought
regarding Sean Donovan. According to the statistics, the boy was a scant four months
from his eighteenth birthday. His training was quite satisfactory; he had proven to be
skillful and strong. He had even surpassed the abilities of many of his Sirian
counterparts. Sean's cooperation was comprised of two facts. The first was his
conversion, when he'd been much younger. The second was continuing treatment with
powerful, mind altering drugs, administered to him daily. Nigel squinted at the symbols
on the screen, and his heart almost stopped cold in his chest. There were newly
approved transfer orders in Sean's file. According to the information, Sean was going to
be sent to Rendezvous Station in two weeks. There, he would endure the rigors of an
intense three month training program. By the time he turned 18, he would be the newest
recruit in the Leader's Specialized Protection Unit, known ominously as Pa'theha's
Dozen!
************************************************************************
Madeline considered her first few days at the camp as a certifiable hell. Her meals
consisted of a bland tasting, odd textured vegetable paste, that was supposedly vitamin
and mineral enriched. It was what everyone ate. Day in, day out, there was no
modification. Three meals a day, and all of them consisted of the same greenish glob of
goop, and a tall glass of water.

Like everyone else, she tolerated it. There was simply no choice. At least the meals
were nutritionally complete, and even then some. In addition, fresh water was more
plentiful than the desert surroundings would suggest. Large water coolers with ample
drinking cups were stationed in every building, and cadets and staff alike were free to
drink from them at any time. It was the only non-protocol activity allowed, actually.
After a couple of days of eating the awful food and drinking the fresh, bottled, water,
she found she had boundless energy.
                                                                                       118


Then was the training routine. Madeline's previous life, imprisoned in her mother's lab,
left her physical stamina compromised. Not even the nine hours a week she'd spent
training under Philip in the Physical Masteries prepared her much. She was an easy
target for the likes of Sean, the Drill Squad Assistant. Madeline could tell at once that
he was human. This intrigued her. There were other humans in the camp, all of them
being trained for military service. However, Sean was the only human that was on the
training staff. Despite his species, and his apparent youth, Sean was just as relentless as
Roland, Doris, and any of the other instructors. He seemed to take a special delight in
singling Madeline out, and testing her on how well she learned her lessons...right in
front of the other cadets. He would single out others, also, but Madeline got the lion's
share of his attention. He never failed to get the upper hand, either. Often, Madeline
would find herself flipped to the ground, gazing up into his cold, expressionless eyes,
wondering just how she'd gotten there. At times, she found herself silently cursing
Philip's name, trying to figure out why he felt that this camp was a better place than the
Mothership for her to be.

Almost every inch of her body was bruised or sore. She had to take special precautions
not to allow anyone to see the injuries to her skin. Fortunately, her uniform hid almost
all visible areas, with the exception of her face and hands. These two areas were not
ones that typically got injured in the martial arts type instruction she was recieving.
Shins, elbows, knees, back, shoulders and buttocks got the punishment. Like the other
female cadets, Madeline had taken to pinning her hair up. She learned quickly that
easily grabbed locks of hair made her vulnerable. Unlike the majority of the other
females, it actually hurt when Madeline had her hair yanked. Pain and anger were her
constant companions these days. The taste of her own venom seemed to be permanantly
coating her tongue. Morning muster required that everyone rise from their bunks at 5
a.m., get dressed, smooth their bedcovers perfectly over their thin mattresses, and stand
at attention by their bunks for inspection.

Usually, Doris inspected the women's dormitory. Madeline learned quickly to have her
affairs perfectly in order when Doris arrived. She'd seen harsh consequences bestowed
upon cadets who did not. The consequences usually involved a beating staff, and a
regimen of unpleasant chores. After muster, everyone, staff included, was ordered to
line up at the medical dispensary. Each person received a pill and a glass of water.
They were told that the pills were vitamins, and that they were required to take them.
Madeline felt a prickle of instinct that told her that this was a lie. She had nothing to
base her suspicions on other than a paranoia of knowing what could happen to her if that
'vitamin' wasn't really a vitamin. Sure enough, on the second day, Madeline was pulled
from the 'receiving' line by the director of the infirmary. He gave her a different
'vitamin' to take. Madeline accepted her dose from him, but she was no more willing to
take it than she was willing to take the first. It went in her mouth, but she would not
swallow it when she swallowed her water. When she was dismissed, she spit the pill out
into her hand, and slipped it into her pocket. Later, she found a garbage recepticle to put
it into. This procedure was repeated on a daily basis. It confirmed her fear that the
cadets at this camp were being given some sort of enhancement, and she figured it had
to involve Procorb if she'd been pulled from the regular dispensing line. However, she
                                                                                        119


was left wondering what else was in those pills, figuring that whatever it was, it was still
in the pill being dispensed to her from the Infirmary Director. It made no sense that it
could really be vitamins if the food they ate was supposed to be so nutritionally sound!

It was after this experience that Madeline began to wonder about Sean. Though she
never met him before, she felt as though she knew him. Then, memories of her time
spent in her mother's conversion chamber came to her. She remembered hearing the
tortured screams of the others who had weathered the conversion process before she
had. Their miseries were etched permanantly into the walls of the chamber. Madeline's
uncanny perceptions allowed her to witness their torment, as if she'd been there to watch
it all happen in person. Those memories had given her nightmares. A younger Sean,
much more innocent and vulnerable, had been in them. She knew every moment of his
hellish experience as though it had been her own. With a sadness, she realized that her
own mother had been responsible for Sean's transformation.

During classroom instruction, Madeline and the other students were exposed to enemy
profiles. They viewed photographs of known resistance members, and were told of their
various crimes against the Sirian Military. She learned of Juliet Parrish, who was the
primary engineer of the deadly red dust, and one of the resistance leaders. Ham Tyler
was also profiled as a resistance leader. Much to Madeline's shock, Sean admitted to the
class that his own father, Michael Donovan was a leader. More shocking was the cold
tone in which Sean instructed the class about this man, and what was to be done if he
were ever captured. She could tell, surnames aside, that Michael Donovan was a
relation of Sean's, simply by the striking resemblence between Sean and the man in the
photograph. Forcing any emotion aside, she remained as impassive as anyone else in
regards to this portion of the training. She couldn't even allow the remotest amount of
surprise to show when a photograph of a young woman was shown.

The woman was identified as Elizabeth Maxwell, the world's first human/Sirian hybrid.
Madeline was astounded to learn that there was another hybrid in existence. She
wondered if she would ever get to meet her. At least the class was informed that if
Elizabeth Maxwell was ever apprehended, she was to be left unharmed and taken
directly to Diana. Madeline had no idea what her mother could possibly want with
Elizabeth, when she hadn't exactly figured out why her mother even wanted her. She
found herself curiously wondering if Elizabeth knew the sorts of things that she
did...like that Sean Donovan's mind was twisted and warped and doped. Somewhere
inside, Madeline knew the real Sean was still trapped; still screaming in horror, and no
one could hear his cries but her. Her pity aside, Madeline was not immune to feeling
anger towards the young drill intructor. He was no Ay'Yath'te, for certain, and had done
nothing to earn any amount of her respect.

This morning was the same as every other had been for the past week. A week was a
very long time in Madeline's scope of existence. She'd almost all but forgotten the
rapture she'd felt in Nigel's arms, and the exhilarated fear of sneaking around after hours
on the Mothership. Reality had caved in her dreams like the sides of a smashed
                                                                                      120


pumpkin. Once again, she found herself sprawled on her back; Sean's flashing eyes full
of triumphant pride.

"See now, I've bested you again!" he crowed to her. His foot was lightly placed on her
chest, as though he dared her to try to rise. Contempt flared in her heart.

"You were not so tough in the conversion tank!" Madeline spat, her words compressed
to a low level that only she and Sean could hear.

For a moment, nothing registered in Sean's eyes. Then, they flew open wide. He hauled
her up from her position on the ground and stood her in front of him.

"I don't really think you're ready to challenge my authority like that," he stated evenly,
his eyes never leaving hers. A spark of raw courage bloomed in Madeline's resolve. She
had broken through to him. Nothing that was said or done from this point forward could
change that. But, if she challenged him, even if she lost, she just might earn some
respect. Maybe he'd learn to stop singling her out and embarrassing her in front of the
others.

"Try me." Her face had a stubborn set to it as she tilted her chin to meet Sean's gaze.
She saw something flash in his eyes...a recognition, perhaps? Then, his resolve
returned. He turned to the six other cadets assembled in the instuction room. They eyed
him nervously.

"It seems one amongst you has the audacity to be defiant and disrespectful. I will show
her a lesson. You all will watch. Let it serve as an example."

By now, Madeline had a pretty good idea what to expect. She could not allow him to
best her this time; at least not easily. There was no way to anticipate Sean's fury,
however. He rained blow after blow upon her, and it was all she could do just to deflect
them. Finally, the anger she'd never allowed to completely surface came to boil. All the
times her mother had intimidated her into compliance...Phillip forcing her to come to
this camp...and now Sean.....Mere defense was not enough. All her her fast stepping
could not put enough distance between her and her tormentor. Venom flooded her
mouth as a spirit she never even knew she possessed invaded her body. Suddenly, she
was finding those weakened areas in Sean's defense. She found places to land a hit, or
a swiftly delivered kick. The training she'd received was finally paying off. Madeline
learned to ignore the flares of pain whenver Sean broke past her own defenses. What she
couldn't ignore, she added to her assault aresenal. Sean slammed her into a wall, and
sparks rained into her field of vision as her head snapped back and connected with it.
She willed herself to remain standing. It took all the force she could muster.

Suddenly, something snapped from her consiousness, as if she'd thrown it from her own
body. The flourescent lighting fixtures overhead all began to shatter, and glass rained
down from above. Neither Sean nor Madeline seemed to notice. The other cadets,
instinctively backing away from the ensuing fight, did. Not a one of them understood,
                                                                                       121


but one of them finally bolted from the room. Moments later, he returned with Roland.
All premise of combative form and conduct had left the two feuding figures of Sean and
Madeline. She had managed to release herself from the prison of the wall. Together,
she and Sean were rolling on the ground, heedless of the small lancettes of broken glass.
Their hands were locked to each other's throats, neither one able to tighten their grasp
on the other.With a bone jarring kick, Roland separated the two of them rather
decisively. He'd managed to connect with both of them. In shock, they rolled apart,
Sean holding his left arm, and Madeline her right. Small shards of broken glass fell
from their uniforms and tinkled to the ground. Madeline saw a trickle of red blood
oozing from Sean's nose. Small cuts on his face and hands leaked as well. The look in
his eyes was glazed, but she watched as something else began to fill his awareness. He
was staring at her, too. She broke the gaze, and looked down at her own hands. They
too were bleeding a little. Her blood was neither Sirian green, or Human red. It was
orange.

"Both of you, in my office, at once!" Roland roared. If anyone in the class that had
witnessed the fight that day had noticed Madeline's differences, they never said so.
Perhaps they were simply too doped to care.

Madeline found herself locked in the "brig" for the evening. Since the facility was
small, there wasn't an actual jail constructed. Only a small room, in an dilapidated
outbuilding of the ranch, with a one, tiny, barred window, and a guard posted at the
door, served as a punishment area. It was devoid of any furnishings accept a small
portable toilet. There was no central air conditioning, and the air was stifling, and
smelled musty. Likely, the smell came from the earth floor. There were still some wood
shelves built into the wall on one side of the room, but they were empty. Sticky looking
stains on the shelves and the cloyingly sweet odor left behind suggested that this small
building had once been used as a storage shed for home canning. To her horror, the door
opened a few hours later, and Sean Donovan was escorted inside. Then, the guards left,
leaving the two of them imprisoned together. For awhile, neither of them spoke. The sun
set, and the shadows of a late summer evening began to deepen in the room. There was
no overhead light fixture in the room, and no lamps. The darkness was intended to
intimidate. Behind her grey contacts, Madeline's alien sharp vision could still see the
bruises purpling Sean's face. With a sense of pride, she realized that she'd really
clobbered him good! Her pride was deflated when she shifted, and winced at a stab of
pain. Every evil she'd inflicted upon him, he had returned, and possibly then some.

Finally, Sean's voice pierced the oncoming darkness. "Just what the hell kind of freak are
you?" he asked. She didn't have to see him clearly to know he was glaring at her.

"A freak with my own mind. And, for your information, I am not a freak. I am a
hybrid." Madeline spat the last words out with a vengence, realizing with some wonder
that it was the first time she'd ever spoken aloud about the truth of her existence.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Sean returned, somewhat glumly.
                                                                                      122


"You do not know what a hybrid is?"

"Yeah, I've got that much figured out. The bit about having your own mind. Suppose
you should explain that!"

"There is nothing to explain, Convert," Madeline replied.

"Convert! How dare you insinuate that I'm converted!"

"It is true, and you know it. I know all about what Diana did to you. I also know about
the vitamins you take. They are mind altering drugs, not vitamins. You swallow them
every day like a good little converted puppet." Madeline knew instinctively that her
taunts were working. She didn't know how many people had tried to kindly intervene
on Sean's behalf, and convince him with flowery words that he'd been converted and
used. What she did know was that he responded to anger. He'd been trained to. It was
one of the cruxes of the conversion process that she understood all too well. A small
part of herself did, too.

"It's not true!" Sean bellowed at her. "They're vitamins. And what I went through was
strength conditioning, not conversion!"

"Suit yourself, Sean. But if Roland and Doris, and even Diana respected you as much as
you seem to think they do, you would not be locked here in the brig with me. They
would be having some party for you instead, and giving you commendations." It hurt to
have to hurl insults at Sean, but she knew that she'd continue as long as she had to.

"I committed a breach of authority and acted irresponsibly. I deserve my punishment;
but don't think for one moment that I don't hold your insubordination responsible for it."

"Maybe there is hope for you after all," Madeline stated into the darkness.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You acted on your own this afternoon. You broke out of your chamber, and for once,
in, I could not guess how long, you acted of your own volition. Really, you should be
proud of yourself." Sean made no reply.

After some time, a platter with two plates of green goo was shoved in through the door.
They ate in silence. Then, they curled up into two separate balls in oposite corners of
the room and fell asleep. The floor was a hard surface to sleep on, particularly when was
one bruised. Madeline's sensitive hearing could detect the sounds of guards pacing
outside, and the scuttling of little creatures within their confines. Something buzzed
around her ears and bit her on the back of her neck, leaving an itchy welt. Sean seemed
to sleep soundly. When dawn came, so did breakfast. Madeline was the only one awake
when the food was shoved through the slot under the door. She saw the two servings,
each with their individual vitamins in small, fluted paper cups, waiting by their
                                                                                         123


respective plates. Quietly, before Sean woke up, Madeline went to work, snatching each
of the vitamin cups off the trays, crumpling them up, and tossing them down the porta-
potty, where they'd be digested by the sanitation chemicals. Sean's automatic
programming woke him up a short time later. He'd only overslept the normal 5 a.m
muster by about 25 minutes. Without comment, he took his breakfast. It wasn't until
several hours had passed that he mentioned anything about his vitamin, and that was
after lunch had been served.

"I suppose we are to shrivel up and die in here," he muttered.

"What?" Madeline asked, surprised to hear his voice. It was the first time he'd addressed
her since his outbursts yesterday.

"No vitamins. Perhaps you're paranoid enough to believe that they're mind altering
drugs, but I don't believe that garbage. It seems we don't get our vitamins in the brig...if
they were 'drugs' like you seem to think, they'd give them to us, don't you think?"

Madeline said nothing, hoping that her actions hadn't made the situation worse. "I'm
starting to feel low energy and tired."

"Maybe the reason you did not get a vitamin is because you were not in line. The
kitchen staff does not dispense the vitamins. It is the Infirmary that dispenses all of the
pills...."

"Yes, but they are given just prior to breakfast," Sean argued.

"But not with breakfast," Madeline countered, leaving out the exception of that
morning, which, so far, she was the only one that knew about.

"Very well. You have a point," he conceded with a sigh.

"I would not suppose they would plan on keeping us in here much longer anyhow,"
Madeline sniffed, "So I am sure you will get your regular dose soon."

"Standard time in solitary for insubordination; first offense is 72 hours," Sean quoted, as
if by rote. "Then, I suppose that would be my sentence. You did not insubordinate, did
you?"

"No, but almost all punishments seem to use the 72 hours as a standard."

"Then why are we together? I thought 'solitary' meant 'alone'?"

"There's no other solitary confinement facility. I suppose they thought it would even be
a better punishment to toss us in together and see if we'd rip each other's eyes out."
                                                                                       124


Through the pale light filtering in through the high, barred window, Sean saw Madeline
smile. He had no idea that she was actually imagining what the guard on duty would do
if she were to pluck one of her contacts out and roll it beneath the door. By nightfall,
Sean was rubbing at his temples as if he had a headache, although he didn't complain of
one. His dinner remained largely untouched. Afterwards, he stretched out on the dirt
floor and fell into an uneasy sleep. It was still uncomfortably warm in their confines,
and they'd unzipped their uniforms as far as decency would allow. It was hard for
Madeline to tell if the heat was making Sean ill, or if it was something else. The only
comfort allowed the prisoners was plenty of water, offered in paper cups through the
slot under the door. Any time they wanted refills, they simply pushed their cups back
through the slot and waited for their demands to be met. Usually, they were met within a
reasonable amount of time. Still, the cups were small, and the heat was almost
oppressive.

The night passed much in the same fashion as the first had, only Madeline slept a little
better. She was the first awake in the morning, as she'd been the day before, and she was
able to dispose of both pills with no incident. When Sean awoke, he was in a chipper
mood, complaining about the stench of the toilet chemicals, the stomach cramps his
breakfast gave him, the intermittent nightmares that had plagued his sleep, and the fly
that kept buzzing around his ears. The last of his problems was dispatched with a quick
flick of a slender, pink tongue.

"I don't believe you just did that!" Sean cried, "Gross!"

 "Actually, it was the best part of my breakfast," Madeline responded truthfully, "And
now I do not have to listen to you complain about it anymore."

The afternoon grew swelteringly hot, and both of them fell into a lolling state of
sluggishness that could not be considered being awake or sleeping. Madeline invisioned
the cool feeling of Nigel's flesh, and how inviting it would be to slide herself against it
right now. She had no idea what Sean was dreaming about, but she was growing too
tired herself to care. Day slid into night without either of them eating their evening
meals.

At some unknown point in the middle of the night, Madeline awoke with a start. She
heard a strange noise in the darkness with her. It sounded like the wailings of a
wounded beast. Sleepiness peeled off of her as she realized that the sounds were coming
from Sean's corner of the room. Quietly, she crawled over to where he was sleeping,
curled in a tight ball. His hands were clenching and unclenching, and his shoulders
were shaking as he cried out from some unnamed terror in his dreams. Gently,
Madeline guided her hands along the back of his shoulders, up past his damp neck, and
into the tangle of dark, wet hair covering his temples. A shock went through her fingers
as she massaged his head. When she closed her eyes, she could actually see his demons.
They were the same ones that had chased him in the conversion chamber.
                                                                                    125


Over and over, as the monster backed him into a corner, Diana's voice repeated the same
phrase. "Reach out to me, Sean. I'll make the monster go away! Reach out to me!" The
monster had his father's face.

"No, Sean," Madeline whispered softly, into his ear. "It is not your
father. It is a demon of your own making. Do not reach out. Slay it
yourself!"

"Not my father..." came Sean's wimper. He was not awake yet.

Only a part of him had heard her. The rest of him remained a helpless
victim as his dream continued to play itself out. Scenarios shifted like
drifting sands as Sean was betrayed by those who were supposed to love him. As
long as Madeline kept contact with him, she could catch a fleeting vision of
his dream's eye.

Poor, helpless Sean, so it seemed. Betrayed by his father, over and
over again; his father always portrayed as evil until the very end, when it
appeared that Sean seemed to resist the notion somewhat. Though his dream self
wasn't completely convinced, a breakthrough was on the verge of happening, and
it was very likely the cause of the nightmare in the first place. His dream
was trying to tell him something, as dreams often do. Sean struggled, swimming
against the currents of sleep that were trying to suck him back down as the
dream reached whatever conclusion this repetition arrived at.

His father betrayed him? His father not the monster? The conclusion
made no sense, and the ending was unexpected, left unanswered. With a gasp, he
sat up, shaking, sweating and pushing away at the cloying darkness that
surrounded him.

"Sean?" Madeline questioned, the anxiety in her voice making her
reverberation slightly more noticable.

Sean jumped at his name for a moment and gasped, as if he was surprised
or frightened to hear it. Then, he pulled away from her light touches,
answering the question as to which emotion he was feeling.

"Nnnn-n-noo...," he moaned.

"Sean, it is okay. It is me, Madeline. You are all right now..."

Tears continued to slide down Sean's cheeks, but slowly, the heavy
feeling of desperation began to lift from the air. Madeline could still sense his
confusion, but she could tell at once that things were becoming clear
to him. She pulled him closer and kissed him softly on his lips. A surprised gasp
escaped from him, but a moment later, he returned her motion with a kiss of his
                                                                                      126


own. There were other things the night was meant for besides having bad
dreams, and Madeline intended to show him. He needed her now, and she had never
had the experience of anyone needing her before. Making love to a human was a
completely different sensation. Sean's body was so warm. Nigel had
known ways to arouse Madeline's Sirian erogenous zones, but despite Sean's obvious
inexperience, he instinctively knew where to find her human ones. Regardless of any
difference, Madeline gave herself completely to him, knowing how much
he needed it. He hadn't lasted very long in her embrace. It seemed that only moments
later, they clung to each other in the dark, sighing as the last of
their passions were spent.

The following morning, Madeline didn't even hear the breakfast tray
slide in under the door. Fortunately, neither did Sean. It sat there, congealing
for three hours before Madeline finally woke up. She had just enough energy
to grab the cups of the pills from the tray and head for the porta toilet,
feeling relieved that if Sean's theory about their time in confinement was
right, this would be the last time she'd have to do it. Sean woke up in time to see
her do it, this time.

"What are you doing?" he croaked miserably, through parched lips.

Madeline felt her resolve crumble in the heat. She pitched her own into
the depths of the hole, but held Sean's out to him.

"Do you wonder why your dream was different last night?" she asked him,
"Why you questioned if your father betrayed you or not? Trust me. If you
were still taking these, you would not have questioned it."

Sean continued to stare at her, small flickers of anger burning in his
eyes at as the realization sunk in that she'd been ditching his pills all
along. However, he still made no move towards her outstretched hand.

"When I say the name 'Diana', what is the first thing that comes to
mind?"

Sean's expression darkened and he visibly recoiled, though he said
nothing.

"Last night, when you first woke up, you were afraid I was her, were
you not? If you were still taking these pills, you would not be afraid of her.
You would be worshipping her. Remember how you used to think...and remember
how you feel now. Then, tell me that these pills are just vitamins," Madeline
told him earnestly.

Ever so slowly, she manuevered the pill farther and farther from Sean's
grasp until it hovered over the toilet. All the while, she held eye contact
                                                                                    127


with him. She could see him considering all she said. It was almost an
unconsious decision when she let it drop. Weakly, Sean slumped down and settled
into a stupor.

A few hours past mid day, the door opened at last. The guards were not
prepared for the sight of the prisoners. Neither of them looked well,
but Sean Donovan was obviously in need of medical attention. For good measure,
they were both taken to the infirmary though Madeline insisted she was fine.
Refusing medical care was a fruitless arguement, however. As she and Sean were
escorted to the Infirmary Compound, Madeline gazed at the pretty azure sky,
wondering what was going to happen to her when the Director discovered her little
secret.

***************************************************************

The reports Diana received from the training facility had her crest
standing up on end. She just knew Phillip had gone off the deep end, sending
Madeline out there without close supervision. Cursing the fate that kept him in
authority over her, Diana closed the transmission report, turned off
her computer, and added another errand to her daily agenda. She would visit the camp
herself and set things to rights.

Dawn was just seeping through the viewports as she stomped back into
her sleeping quarters to shower and change into clean clothing. Diana had
nearly forgotten that she hadn't spent the night alone.

"You are up early," Dale said to her, sitting up in bed. His contacts
were out, lying neatly in their case on the bedside table.

"I am always up early. That is nothing new," Diana snapped tensly.

Dale's salt and peppered human eyebrow shot up a notch and he slid out
of the bed.

"Yes, that is true, you usually are up quite early...but I must contend
that it is much too soon in the morning for you to be having a bad day. So,
what can we do to turn it around?"

"What can 'we' do?" Diana questioned, incrediously.

With a sultry smile, Dale glanced at his chrono.

"It is not even six o'clock yet. You still have over an hour before you
are officially on the duty roster. Whatever it is, surely it can wait..."

"I'm afraid not," Diana stated, but her tone was softer as she could
                                                                                    128


tell that Dale was making an honest attempt to appease her.

"An emergency?" he questioned.

"Of sorts, thanks to our Inspector General. I just received a report
that Madeline was involved in an altracation with one of her instructors and
was put in solitary confinement for 72 hours. I knew removing her from the
Mothership was a bad idea!" she fumed.

"Yes, perhaps so," Dale agreed solemnly.

"I need to get her out of there!"

"You are just going to go storm down to the camp and yank her out, and
risk Philip's wrath when he returns from Rendezvous Station?"

Diana glared at Dale, crossing her arms over her chest in a distinct
warning.

"Perhaps a trip to the camp is warranted, but....rash actions will only
raise suspicions. If Madeline is misbehaving, 72 hours in solitary
confinement might do her some good. Meanwhile, you will have the opportunity to ask
the camp facilitators about what happened. Who knows...if her behavior was
insubordinate enough, she may not need to be yanked out of the camp.
She might get expelled! At the very least, you would have some concrete documentation
to present to Philip, upon his return, as to why you believe that Madeline's
placement is inappropriate. If he argues...then it might be time to consider some
less orthodox means of reassigning her...."

"Dale, this isn't just any other recruit. This is Madeline.
She's...special to me."

"She is a hybrid. Yes, I know. I helped to observe her when she was
ill. I am aware that special circumstances surround her. Sometimes, though, it
might help to pretend that those special circumstances do not exist...so that
no one else will suspect them. Madeline has already been at the camp for some
time. When you go down and investigate, if you should find out that anyone
knows the truth about her special circumstances, I am quite sure you have ways to
ensure that they will keep their silence."

"So then, you're suggesting I should let her stay at that camp until
Philip returns?" Diana asked.

"If it is at all possible for you to do so, yes. The more you move her
around, the more visible she becomes, and the more risk she will be
exposed to. When she does return, I would like to make certain that there is
                                                                                       129


minimal risk to her. If you run off at the drop of a hat, I will not have time to
properly prepare for her arrival," Dale explained.

"I see."

Diana stopped to consider his logic for a few minutes, but in that few
minutes, Dale knew he'd won the arguement. He inched his way over to
her, little by little, until he was able to slide his hands up to her shoulders and
begin to massage them.

"Now, there is one other way I can think of to help with a bad day," he
whispered, nudging her ear.

"And what would that be?" Diana asked.

"Start it over from the beginning. Come back to bed..." he suggested,
slyly nudging her towards the bed. His hands had her lounging gown unfastened
quickly, and she felt her body respond to the demands of his touch.
She liked a man who wasn't intimidated to touch her. Most of her past lovers, either
male or female, could never leave rank out of the bedroom. She was
dissapointed to always have to take the lead. Sometimes, what she desired the most was
to be overtaken, submissive and consumed. Other times, she did enjoy being
dominant. Her moods were as varying as the seasons of the Earth's climate. It
was rare that she found a lover who understood this. Dale seemed to
understand implicitly. For a luxurious half hour, she felt her cares washed away.

Time was running short when at last, they parted. To hasten their
efforts, Dale suggested they shower together. Diana felt another exciting surge
in her mood. Here was a man she could almost envision ruling the world with.
Not even the rigors of soap and water could wash the smile from her face,
especially with Dale doing the washing, especially since they showered
unencumbered by their human suits. Their human guises were being cleaned at the same
time, in a special machine designed for a thorough washing of that purpose.

With a refreshed body and attitude, Diana felt ready to tackle the
agenda for the day. After attending to some duties on the bridge, she had her
personal shuttle prepared for her, and departed the Mothership; taking two
personal guards with her. They were instucted to keep silent and remain
practically invisible, unless she called upon them. She piloted the shuttle
herself, presetting the camp's coordinates into the shuttle's computer. She was relieved
she didn't have to answer to Phillip regarding her whereabouts. No one
else would dare ask. However, Doris and Roland, the head staff at the camp, were
alerted to her arrival. When she touched down, it was early in the afternoon.
Both of them stood at the enterance to greet her. They maintained rigid,
respectful stances at attention as she approached. Despite their perfect
mannerisms, Diana let it be known to them at once that she was not pleased. She had
                                                                                     130


little respect for strict military types, and Doris and Roland rankled her.
They reminded her of Pamela. The mere thought of this camp turning her daughter into
a little Pamela crossed her mind. It made her sick. She mentally cursed
Phillip again as she ordered the two instuctors to fill her in on the situation
involving Madeline and Sean Donovan, at once.

The attitude adjustment Dale had given Diana wore off immediately when
Doris told her that the two had been released from their confines in seventy
two hour solitary, and had since been admitted into the infirmary.

"I see. So this means that the incident between the two of them
happened a full three days prior to me being informed of it?"

"A transmission was sent to the Mothership on the day of the incident,
Commander," Doris replied.

"I'll be reviewing the transmission logs myself before I leave," Diana
snapped, "You'd better hope that I find proof of a priority one
transmission..."

"You will, Commander," Roland added, "I sent it myself."

"We will sort this out later. For now, take me to the infirmary," she
ordered.

The Director of the Infirmary was a tall, gaunt man by the name of
Sylvester. Unlike most other people that met Diana for the first time, Sylvester
did not appear particularly worried. In fact, his everyday mannerisims
would make it seem that nothing affected him. When Diana strode into the room, his
one nurse snapped to attention, nearly upsetting the vials of medication
she was stocking the medicine cabinet with. There were four patients in the
room, but only two required beds. The two others were being treated for minor
ailments. Ricky, a human cadet, was having his dressing changed from a minor burn
he'd received. Damian, a Visitor drill squad leader, had an infected venom
sac and was waiting his turn to be seen. The two bed patients were Madeline and
Sean, who were hooked up to intravenous drips. Both Ricky and Damian stared in
disbelief when they saw Diana enter the room. Madeline, sensing her doom was
eminent, did the best she could to blend in with the starched white pillowcase on
her cot. Sean dozed on his cot nearby. He'd hardly stirred since he'd been
brought in. Sylvester barely looked up when Diana huffed into the infirmary. She
ordered her guards to wait at the door.

"Doctor, I have a matter of extreme importance to discuss with you,"
she announced. Then, she turned a pointed look to Ricky and Damian.

"When you are finished with this patient, I will need your full
                                                                                      131


attention. Any other patients will need to reschedule."

"Very well," Sylvester sighed, almost indifferently. He then summoned
his nurse.

"Kirsten, finish dressing Ricky, and set Damian up with the first
available opening for this afternoon," he instructed.

Wide eyed and wordless, his nurse obeyed, and Sylvester escorted Diana
to a more private corner of the infirmary.

"What were those two admitted for?" Diana hissed, keeping her voice as
quiet as her temper would allow.

"Initial assessment reveals heat exhaustion and dehydration for the
female, and severe dehydration and possible heat stroke for the male," he
replied automatically.

"Any other assessments made?" Diana pressed.

"If you are referrering to the strange, orange tinge to the female's
blood? I believe there is a condition in human medicine called Carrotonemia,
caused by eating too many orange colored foods, such as carrots, but that
typically causes a mild skin discoloration. It does not cause the blood or the
eyes of the patient to turn orange, nor would it cause their tongue to
biforcate..."

"Stop patronizing me, Sylvester. She's going to be alright?"

"I expect her to make a full recovery. I am merely restoring her
electrolyte balance. Tomorrow morning, she will be released, and I imagine she will
feel fine."

"Is your nurse aware of Madeline's differences?" Diana asked.

"How could she not be?"

"Well, then, I suppose you should inform her that there had better not
be a soul outside of the two of you that finds out. I will be making
arrangements for her to be transferred soon. But, in the meantime, I don't think I
need to tell you what happens to those that break my confidences," Diana warned
him.

Sylvester sighed wearily.

"Kirsten and I respect all tenents of doctor/patient confidentiality.
                                                                                      132


No one will find from us."

Diana cast a glance over to the cots, where Sean was resting.

"What about him? What is Sean's prognosis?"

"Well," Sylvester stated, "He will require more monitoring. For some
reason, the confinement took a greater toll on him. I understand that the
prolonged exposure to the heat can cause severe health consequences to humans.
His heart rate was accelerated and thready upon his admission, but I have
stabilized him. Now, I am restoring his fluids and monitoring his output. This is a
most unfortunate thing to have happen to him, since he's been specially
selected to go to Rendezvous Station for Specialized Training. According to Roland,
if this kid is not ready to roll in 24 hours, he will personally rip out my
heart and squash it beneath his boots."

This bit of information he passed on to her with about as much emotion
as a block of lead.

"Oh. I see." Diana stated, with a raise of an eyebrow, "What sort of
Specialized Training?"

"I do not know," Sylvester responded dryly, "And further more, I highly
doubt the boy will be ready to roll in 24 hours, regardless of whether Roland
rips my heart out or not. Sean will need at least 72 hours, and his chances
of recovery will be best if my heart remains in my chest cavity."

Diana smiled sweetly at him.

"I can guarantee you that if you keep your silence, your heart will
remain in your chest cavity, dear Sylvester. But, if word gets out, I won't be
responsible for what happens...."

Before she left the camp, Diana made one last, brief stop at Madeline's
bedside. There was no chair nearby, so she sat on the mattress of the
narrow cot itself. Madeline gazed at her mother silently, trying to read what
intent had brought her to her bedside. Diana gazed back at her, and for once, she
felt at a loss for words herself. Things were not going as planned. This girl was
her child, and would someday share in her vision of supreme power. All
she'd ever intended to do was mold her, instruct her, strengthen her, and shape
her. Instead, she'd alienated her and, quite by accident, nearly killed her.
How to pass power down to one that was seemingly estranged? How to make her
understand that she hadn't wanted to hurt her with the procorb? Diana had an
alarming memory of Nathan Bates, and his clumsy attempts to reconnect with his
belligerent son, Kyle. She didn't have too many notions as to what had caused the
rift between father and son, except to know that it existed long before Kyle
                                                                                         133


sided with the resistance. Now, she wished she did. Madeline seemed about as
approachable as Mount Kilamanjaro.

Diana shifted uncomfortably on the cot while these strange emotions ran
rampant in her brain... In an uncharacteristic motion, she smoothed her
palms nervously over the legs of her white dress uniform, attempting to rid
it of any wrinkles that were not there.

"Things haven't gone as I've planned. It wasn't my idea to ship you
down here," she started.

"No, you just wanted to lock me in the lab for the rest of my natural
lifespan," Madeline replied.

"Not at all, dear. I just didn't feel that you were ready for
unsupervised activities outside the lab. If only you'd expressed an interest in
broadening your horizons, I could have shown you safer alternatives," Diana said.

'You were too busy scruffing Security Chief Dale," Madeline said.

Diana cocked her head at the term, and then she narrowed her eyes.

"Scruffing? Where on the moons of Jupiter did you hear such a
derogative term?"

"Here," Madeline answered, with a look in her eyes that said 'Don't
ask!' Diana only smiled at the response, gaging for herself a slight look of
surprise in her daughter's eyes.

"I'm not surprised ," she said.

Her comment did seem to effectively lighten the mood somewhat.

"To answer your statement, Madeline, I only engaged in private
relations with Security Chief Dale well after you were supposed to be in bed, asleep."

"I know this, Mother, but I do not always sleep when I am supposed to.
Sometimes, I am not sleepy. Do you love Dale? Is that why you have
sex with him?"

Once again, Diana swallowed her shock. She had to remind herself that
her activities were not being questioned by a foolish subordinate with a
death wish. Her answer came slowly, which confused her even more. She wasn't used
to being at a loss for words.

"I don't know that I love him, Madeline," she responded, finally, "but
                                                                                       134


I do have...well...an attraction for him."

"Feelings?" Madeline pressed.

"Yes, of course. There are some feelings involved. But I don't allow
myself to get carried away with them. It's too dangerous."

"How are feelings dangerous?"

"Darling, they make you vulnerable. It's too easy for someone to take
advantage of you if they know you have feelings for them." She then
narrowed her eyes at her daughter again, knowing she had to ask the question forming
in her mind. It was born of an intuition she wasn't accustomed to having, and
hadn't been prepared to confront in this particular fashion.

"Madeline, are you trying to tell me that you have feelings for
someone?" Diana probed.

"No, I was asking if you do," her daughter responded matter of factly.

"Well, now for my question. Is there someone you're enamored of?"

"There will be someday," Madeline replied, with the hint of a smile.

"Ah, I see. So, then, you've been experiencing physical awakenings,
have you?"

"I have figured out how to take care of business. It is not wrong to,
is it?"

Once again, Diana was thrown for a loop. The young woman that had
seemed unapproachable only moments before, had surprisingly transformed.

"Of course it's not wrong, Madeline. In fact, if you're referring to
masturbation, it's completely normal. I'd much rather you 'take care of
business' yourself than engage in risky sexual encounters," she replied, the
scientific answer rolling off of her tongue rather easily.

Madeline seemed satisfied with the response. She leaned back against
her pillow with an expectant air, as though she were waiting for more from
their conversation. Diana felt too that there was more she wished to
discuss, but somehow, she found it hard to form her thoughts. Only that strange,
humming sense of intuition told her that things were not right. She had been aware
that the medications administered to the others at this camp might not work on
Madeline's unique chemistry. In some ways, she was glad they didn't.
The last thing she wanted was an emotionally deadened daughter, capable of no more
                                                                                      135


intelligent thought than the military likes of John and Pamela. No,
that wasn't the problem, but damnation be to the Leader if she knew precisely what was.

"Madeline, back to where we started. It was not my idea to send you to
this camp. It was Phillip's. I'd much rather you be with me. I know we had
some difficulties earlier, but they were merely a simple lack of
understanding. You see, I'm accustomed to being a commander, not a mother. From my
standpoint, I really didn't expect that there'd be much of a difference, but I was
wrong."

"So why did you make me?" Madeline asked, "When you have so many others
to command. Why did you need me?"

"I made you because I wanted you," Diana responded simply.

"Do you love me?" Her daughter's question was so innocent, yet it made
Diana very uncomfortable. This wasn't what she'd come down here for.
Somehow, the situation had slipped beyond her control. What was merely to be an
evaluation of the situation that had escalated between Madeline and another cadet
had somehow turned to an examination of the deepest, darkest recesses of
Diana's emotional capabilities. She tried to summon forth any example of
maternal warmth and feeling to guide her in an answer. What did it mean for a mother to
love a child?

There were examples she could recall of human parental love. She
remembered how that annoying woman in the grocery store had bragged about her
children. There was Michael Donovan's undying quest to find his son. Even Nathan
Bates had demonstrated a more pathetic form of parent/child love. Examples
from her own people, even from her own life, were less forthcoming. She could
barely remember her own mother without the accompanying taste of venom in her
mouth. Therefore, she had nothing other than scientific reasoning to base her
answer on. A mother would want to protect her child. Did she wish to protect
Madeline? Well, of course. She'd even lied on her behalf, and shielded her from
those that could hurt her. Now, she felt she could justifiably answer
Madelien's question.

"Yes, of course I love you. Like I said, I know we've had difficulties
in the past. I've only begun to learn the intricacies of motherhood.
Meanwhile, you've just been growing faster than I can learn it all!" Diana
explained, "Just be patient, my dear. As soon as I can persuede Philip to allow you out
of this ridiculous camp, you'll come back to the Mothership, and we'll
work on things together."

"Do you mean it?" Madeline's expression suddenly brightened.

"Absolutely. This camp is a waste of your time. You don't belong here.
                                                                                    136


You belong with me," Diana replied confidently.

"One last thing..." Madeline said, "When I come back, I do not want to
be locked in the lab all the time. I do not care how it is managed, but I
do not want to be by myself, or kept like I am in a cage."

"Of course not darling," Diana wasn't certain how she'd be able to
accomodate Madeline's wish, but she supposed that someday, the matter would have
presented itself anyways. She knew the time had come to further
Madeline's education. Diana had created Madeline for a purpose, and she well
supposed that it was time Madeline learned what that purpose was. In the meantime, there
were plans to be made concerning the other phases of her plans.

Diana's last stop at the camp was the Communications Room. Indeed, as
Roland showed her, records proved that a priority transmission had been sent
to the mothership three days ago regarding Madeline and Sean's incident.
Fuming, Diana realized that her delay in receiving the message meant one of two
things. Either it had been intercepted by someone first, or there was a
malfunction in the communications computer.

As Diana's shuttle lifted off, Doris responded to her Commander's
immediate order, and put a work order in through the Legation to have their
Communications equipment inspected, and if necessary, repaired.

				
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