Mike turned the blue four-door sedan onto the simple
dirt road that led to the safe house and slowed it to a crawl, trying to avoid the
numerous potholes. It took them ten minutes to reach the sprawling ranch house. In order
to reach it, however, they had to cross a bridge and underneath that bridge was enough
dynamite to blow apart a semi. It would have no problem with a car.
Mike stopped the car in front of the bridge and
waited. Almost immediately, three men appeared from the surrounding woods, their guns
leveled. Julie, sitting in the passenger seat, recognized the lead man instantly.
"Hey, Sancho! When did you get back from Mexico?"
The three men lowered their guns and the stocky
Mexican came over to peer in the window. "Yesterday. And right back to work,
eh?" He grinned, hefting the gun. He noticed Ham's battered face and whistled.
"A run-in with Bates' pet pigs."
Sancho grinned and waved them through. Mike eased
the car over the bridge and pulled it to a halt near the garage, then stepped out,
followed by his fellow Resistance fighters. They could see people peering cautiously out
the windows, guns in hand. As they were recognized, the guns were lowered and their
friends came out to greet them. Chris Farber, moving remarkably well for one so recently
wounded, was in the lead.
"Ham! Jez, brother." Chris studied his
friend's bruises worriedly. "How bad?"
"This." Ham gestured toward his face then
held up his wrists. "This. Cracked ribs. Bruises." He shrugged. "I've had
Chris nodded slowly. "Where's Maggie?"
Ham gave him and the others an in-the-nutshell recap
of what happened as they strolled into the house. "And I'm going to look for
her." He finally finished. "You coming, Chris?"
Chris threw him a startled look. "Yeah,
"Now wait a minute, Tyler!" Julie spoke
up. "You're hurt. You need rest."
"Give me a break, ladydoc!" Ham snapped.
"In case you haven't noticed there's a was going on!" He took a deep breath,
ignoring the renewed pain in his ribs. "Besides, I'm the only one who knows where the
car went off the road."
With that, Ham stalked off, heading for the master
bedroom. Julie stared after him helplessly then whirled on Chris.
"Chris, you talk to him. He'll listen to
Chris threw her an incredulous look. "Who you
kidding, little lady!? Ham don't listen to nobody but himself. And sometimes not even
himself." He spun on his heel and followed his friend. It took him just a minute to
catch up with him and together they walked in silence to the master bedroom, the only room
the other Resistance fighters never entered. Ham turned the knob and stepped inside.
The room was just as he left it. The big bed looking
awfully inviting to him but he had work to do. There was no time to rest. He walked over
to the bureau and pulled open a drawer, pulling out clothes.
Behind him, Chris shut the door and leaned back
against it, staring at his friend thoughtfully. He spoke up suddenly. "Julie's right,
y'know. You should rest. Mike an' the others can find Maggie."
"Maybe. I. . .just wanna be there."
Ham looked at the wall, silently thinking. Why did
he want to find Maggie so badly? Why was it so important to him to go along when all his
rationing said stay and rest?
"I don't know." He said finally then
shrugged. "She has a copy of the communiqué for one thing."
Chris reached out and spun the other man around to
face him. "That ain't the reason and you know it! Why don't you admit the real
reason? That you care for her."
Ham's face hardened and he jerked his arm free.
Tossing his clothes on the bed, he sat down next to them, face cold. "Don't be
stupid. There's no place in our profession for sentiment."
"Don't you dare give me that shit, Ham! That
tough guy act may work on the others but this is me you're talking to, 'member? The guy
who's been with you since 'Nam. I know you, probably better then you know yourself. I
ain't seen you react like this to a lady since Lin."
At the mention of his wife's name, Ham's fist
clenched. Unbidden, his wife's face came to mind. To his surprise, so did Maggie's. The
latter's honey-blond hair, blue eyes and fair complexion were vastly different from Lin's
exotic Asian beauty yet each woman possessed the same quiet courage and strength, plus a
certain. . .something. . .that attracted him to both of them.
"All right." Ham bowed his head tiredly.
"I admit it. I do. . .care. . .for her. Hell, if circumstances were different, I
could probably. . ." His voice trailed off then continued. "But they're not
different. We're in a war. You can't get involved in a relationship during a war."
His voice tightened. "You only get hurt."
Chris said nothing for a long moment then rested his
hand in his friend's shoulder. "Look, Ham. Those people out there care for you, all
of them. Even Mike an' Kyle, for all their ribbing." He studied Ham intently.
"You're not a stone, Ham. You're a human being. With feelings. And you care for them.
Isn't it time you admit it? And start livin' again?"
Ham didn't answer, didn't even lift his eyes from
the floor. After a few minutes of silence, Chris gave up the hope of receiving an answer
and stood. "Look, ah'll go get a van ready. See ya in a few minutes, hey?"
Ham nodded. "Yeah. I'll take a shower and join
you in about fifteen minutes."
Chris nodded, turned and ambled out the door,
shutting it behind him. Ham stood and walked over to the window, staring out into the
forest, lost in thought. He let his mind wander, thinking about Lin, about Myra and the
last time he saw them, standing in the doorway of a church just outside of Saigon. About
the sight that greeted him when he returned, the burned-out ruin where his family had
been. About his parents, brother, sister- in-law, all killed by a drunk driver a short
time after he'd returned from 'Nam. About Ruby Ingels, a woman he would have told his past
to had she lived. About Brad McIntyre and Elias Tayler. About all the dead.
And about the living. Elizabeth, Chris, Becky, Mike,
Julie, Kyle, Willie, Rico. And Maggie. He bowed his head, thinking about Maggie. Was she
alive? If she was dead, he'd grieve briefly and move on. But if she was alive. . ?"
Ham turned abruptly and picked up his clothes. He'd
deal with that when...if...the time came. This was, as he had told Chris, a war. Caring
and concern made a person weak and vulnerable. If you cared, you could be hurt. In order
to survive, you had to be hard. A stone.
A stone does not love; a stone does not suffer loss;
a stone does not hurt. Luckily stone.
He walked toward the shower.
Nathan Bates sat in his office, silently reading a
report, when the door buzzed. He pushed the button that opened the door and Cesaro walked
"Well?" Bates demanded.
"The homing device concealed in Tyler's vest is
working perfectly. He's at a ranch house owned by a 'Logan Wolverine'."
Bates smiled. "It's a safe bet that Donavon and
Parrish are out there as well." He steepled his fingers. "And probably Kyle and
the Starchild. Take as many men as you think you'll need and get out there. I want Kyle
and Elizabeth alive. The others too, if you can. With their help, we'll close down every
Resistance in L.A."
"What about Tyler?"
Bates glanced down at the report he held. "If
we'd managed to get hold of Tyler's niece, I'd say bring him back alive and use her as a
lever to get him to work for us. But we don't have her." He looked back up at his
employee. "So kill him."
Cesaro smiled coldly. "My pleasure, Mr.
He turned and walked from the office.
"That's the spot. She's be around there."
Mike looked at the spot where Ham's finger rested on
the map. It was a good two hours drive from the safe house. "You sure?"
Ham nodded. The two men, along with Julie,
Elizabeth, Kyle, Willie and three other Resistance fighters stood in the large kitchen,
sipping coffee and planning their next course of action.
"Well, if you're certain then let's go. We
haven't got much daylight left." Mike picked up his rifle. "Ann, Nick, you two
stay here with Elizabeth. Keep the home fires burning."
The married couple who normally stayed at the safe
house nodded. The rest of the group picked up their guns and followed Ham toward the door.
Mike hesitated when he saw that Elizabeth and Kyle weren't following. "You two
"Ah. . .yeah." Kyle waved him on.
"I'll be along in a minute."
Mike grinned and ran to catch up with the others,
already halfway to the van awaiting them near the garage.
"The lovebirds coming?" Ham grinned.
"Yeah, in a minute." Mike looked around
absently. "How you feeling?"
"Fine, Gooder. Just fine."
"You got beat up pre. . ." Mike stopped,
grabbing Ham's arm. "Wait a minute. Where's Sancho?"
The rest of the Resistance fighters followed Mike's
gaze to the sentry post on the other side of the bridge, situated so that the sentry
wasn't noticeable from the road but easily seen by the residents. There was no one in
"Shit!" Ham muttered. He shot a quick look
at the van and realized that Chris was nowhere in sight. "Everyone! Back to the
The Rebels started to back up only to freeze at the
sound of a cold--and to Ham, familiar--voice coming form their left.
"I wouldn't do that."
They whirled to face the voice, guns ready. Cesaro
was leaning casually against a tree, a gun in his hand. Three of Bates' police appeared
from around the side of the house, herding Chris and Sancho ahead of them. Cesaro smiled
"You're getting careless." Cesaro said
mockingly as other officers appeared to surround the Rebels. "I suggest you drop your
The Rebels hesitated, none of them relishing
becoming Cesaro's prisoners, especially after seeing what he did to Tyler. Cesaro noted
their hesitation and smiled cruelly. With a casual move, he aimed the gun he held and
The bullet hit Chris in the leg, tearing through
muscle and tissue but missing bone before exiting messily. The big man fell to the ground
with a grunt. Reaching down quickly, he pressed his hands against the wounds in an attempt
to staunch the bleeding.
Cesaro thumbed back the hammer on his gun.
"Now. Or the next one goes through his head." Cesaro purred.
Ham stared at the blood flowing between his fiend's
fingers and felt pure hatred. Ham clenched his jaw and worked his fingers along the rifle
then, with a violent gesture, he threw it to the ground. The others followed suit.
"Hands behind your head, fingers laced. All of
The Rebels obeyed and officers darted forward
carefully to remove handguns for holsters and pick up rifles. Once they were safely
disarmed all the Rebels save Ham were herded to where Sancho stood and Chris sat. Ignoring
the gun pointed at them, Julie dropped to her knees next to the wounded man.
"That won't be necessary, Ms. Parrish."
Cesaro sneered coldly. "I doubt Farber will live long enough for that wound to be a
problem. "You." He gestured at two of the officers. "Go get the car and
truck. And extra cuffs." He smirked. "We got plenty of occupants for them.
Absently, Cesaro primed his gun and turned to Ham, still isolated from his fellow Rebels.
Ham stared into Cesaro's cold eyes with his own, his
hands laced behind his head. Silently, we hope that the Bates boy had been quick
enough--and smart enough--to get 'lizabeth and the Jeffers out the back door. If Bates got
his hands on 'lizabeth. . .
The front door crashed open and the four remaining
Rebels were shoved out. One of the cops gave Elizabeth a harder-then-necessary push and
she stumbled. Kyle whirled, eyes flashing.
"Bates!" Ham bellowed. The younger man
froze and looked at him. "Cool it, kid! 'lizabeth's okay!"
The Starchild grabbed her boyfriend's arm and held
"They don't dare hurt 'lizabeth." Ham
continued. "Both Diana and Bates want her."
"You're right, Tyler. They do. . ." Then
to the Starchild. "However, if you should try to use your. . .powers. . .to interfere
with us, all your friends will die. Understand?"
Elizabeth hesitated then nodded slowly. Cesaro
turned his attention to the young man beside her. "Ahhh, Kyle. Your father will be
most pleased to see you."
"That makes one of us." Kyle growled,
smoldering anger in his eyes. "I'm beginning to wish Tyler had killed him."
"I'll be sure and tell him that. However. .
." Cesaro turned back to Ham. ". . .speaking of Mr. Tyler. . ." Smiling
Cesaro slammed the fist not holding the gun across Ham's face, reopening cuts and driving
Ham to the ground. The Rebel shook his head groggily and looked up to see the business end
of the Smith & Wesson pointing at him. "I'm afraid he won't be joining us."
Cesaro's finger tightened on the trigger.
The wolf dropped onto Cesaro from the branches of
the great oak above. Its paw pushed down on the hand holding the gun and the bullet dug
into the ground between Ham's legs, dangerously close to a part of his anatomy he was
quite fond of.
Shocked, he sat bolt upright. Death he was prepared
for, emasculation was another story. After quickly establishing, much to his relief, that
nothing vital, non-vital or recreational had been injured, Ham looked up to take stock of
The Rebels hadn't moved, still covered by most of
the officers. In front of Ham, Cesaro was on his knees, trying desperately to keep the
young wolf's fangs from his throat and just barely succeeding. Two officers were rushing
forward to help Cesaro while a third leveled his gun at Ham, preventing him from aiding
There was a sudden shout from an officer standing
near the sentry post. A motorcycle roared into view and over the bridge. The man who
shouted raised his gun and fired only to fall, dead or dying, when the cycle's passenger
shot him. The cycle roared into the courtyard.
The driver's arm swung and a grenade fell among the
officers, scattering them. Instantly the Rebels took advantage of the chaos to attack
their former captors. Kyle wrestled a gun from an officer and shot the man covering Ham.
Ham grinned and gave the younger man the thumbs-up then looked back at Cesaro and the
wolf. His smile vanished.
Cesaro had somehow, through good luck or skillful
contortion, managed to get the gun he still held in between him and the wolf. As Ham
watched in horror, Cesaro squeezed the trigger.
"NO!" Ham bellowed the word, lunging to
his feet. He was too late. The bullet went through the wolf with ease, the flattened slug
barely missing the Rebel. Blood splattered over him, warm and wet. Instinctively, Ham
reached out and caught the falling wolf. Gently he eased it to the ground, not even
noticing when Cesaro took aim at him.
But Julie did.
Quickly she scooped up a fallen gun and aimed,
hoping that it was loaded. The gun bucked in her hand. She missed but the shot threw
Cesaro off. The man hesitated then whirled and ran. Julie ran to Ham's side.
"Ham! We need. . !" She stopped in
mid-word, gaping as she saw the wolf the man held. No, not wolf. Even as she watched, the
wolf features were melting, changing, becoming more and more human until, at last, a young
girl in her early teens, was cradled in Ham's arms. Blood flowed from her mouth and nose.
Dropping to her knees, Julie stared at the girl
helplessly. Silently she fumbled at the hidden zipper running up the body-close suit the
girl wore, drawing it down far enough to look at the wound, biting her lip at the sight.
The bullet had to have gone through several vital organs before exiting. Even as she
watched, the bleeding slowed then stopped.
"No." Ham moaned softly, his hand waving
helplessly over the wound. "Please, no. Not you, too, babe. Please."
"Ham?" The girl's voice was weak, her
silver eyes open and glazed. "That you?"
Julie was startled. She thought the girl was dead.
Looking up at Ham, she was amazed to see a variety of emotions playing across the normally
impassive man's face. His hand moved to gently stroke the girl's face. "Right here,
babe." The big man's eyes were clouded.
"It. . .hurts." She sounded surprised.
"I know. Rest. You'll be okay." Ham lifted
his eyes to meet Julie's, a pleading clear in his. She hesitated then slowly shook her
head. Perhaps if she had a fully-equipped hospital. . .
She was surprised to see a moistness appear in Ham's
The girl's hand reached up to tug weakly at Ham's
collar. He leaned down. Despite the weakness of the girl's voice, Julie could hear her
". . .love you. . .uncle. . ." Her hand
fell and blood trickled from her mouth.
Ham stared down at the girl he held then laid her
down gently. Emotions he thought long dead tore at him mercilessly. He felt a hand on his
shoulder and looked up to meet Julie's concerned eyes.
"Ham, I. . ." Her voice broke and she
looked at him in sympathy.
Ham realized suddenly that not all the wetness on
his face was blood. Some of it was tears. For the first time in a decade, he was crying.
'Impossible!' he thought. 'Stones don't cry.'
Ham looked down at the girl and thought about what
he had said then looked up at Julie and the concern in her eyes.
No one loves a stone; no one cares if a stone
suffers; no one hurts for the sake of a stone. Poor stone.
Reaching down, Ham drew the gun--a Cobra 7--from the
holster the holster/harness his niece wore. Checking it quickly, ignoring the blood
staining it, he saw that it had the bolt chamber attached. Three bolts were in the
chamber. As Ham stared at the gun, his face once again became cold and impassive.
Standing, Ham searched for Cesaro. All around him,
Rebels and officers fought, the Rebels rapidly gaining the upper hand with the help of the
cyclist. The man he was looking for, however, was nowhere in sight.
"Cesaro!" He screamed in rage.
Ham spun. Chris stood not to far away, leaning on
young Kyle. He was pointing down the road. Turning, Ham saw a cloud dust settling on the
road. A car had passed that way recently and Ham was willing to bet Cesaro was in it.
The Rebel started to run toward the nearby van only
to be cut off by the motorcycle. Automatically, he raised his gun then hesitated as the
cycle's passenger slid off and the driver motioned him to get on. Without hesitation he
did so. The driver revved the engine and headed after the fleeing car.
Behind him, Chris looked around. He could see that
the fight was over, the Rebels winning. With Kyle's help, he limped over to stand by
Julie. One by one, the others joined him, staring down at the young girl. Elizabeth knelt
and rested a gentle hand on the girl's forehead.
"Who was she?" Mike asked after a short
Chris met Mike's eyes briefly then looked away.
"Ham's niece. Becky." He looked down at Elizabeth. "Elizabeth? Ham told me
'bout when Willie was hurt. Can you. . ?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "I'm trying. I'm
sorry. Nothing's happening."
"It's okay, Elizabeth." He rested his hand
on her shoulder.
Becky was falling into darkness. No, not
falling. Floating. She felt no pain as she floated, just a kind of. . .serenity. Yes, that
was the word. Serenity.
'Is this death, then? Darkness and
weightlessness?' A light appeared before her and she knew that was where she was to go.
Becky started to run toward the light, first on two feet and then on four as she changed
into a wolf.
As she came closer to the light she could see
people within it. Her tail wagged as she recognized her foster parents. Nearby was Tommy
Pearson, three years dead in a car crash, Nina Greer, dead of cancer these five years and
several others she knew, all long dead. She ran as fast as she could toward the light,
eager to meet the parents she never knew.
'Gee, what will Mom and Dad think when they see
me?' A figure appeared suddenly in her path, preventing the wolf from entering the light.
Startled, she skid to a halt and stared at the woman. Yes, it was a woman, her scent and
aura reminding Becky of Maggie. She trusted her instantly.
The woman knelt and gently stroked Becky's
forehead. 'Do you truly wish to enter, little one?'
'Isn't that what I'm supposed to do? Aren't I
dead?' Becky was puzzled.
'No, not yet. But the longer you remain, the
less chance you have of returning.' The woman pointed back the way Becky had come. Looking
back, Becky saw that there was a trail of white paw prints. Even as she watched, the trail
'I don't get it! That wound would kill any
normal human. Why should I go back just to die and return?'
'Ahhhh, but you're not a normal human, are you?'
Becky looked up, studying her with all her
lupine senses. 'Why are you doing this? What concern am I to you? Who are you?'
The woman's aura and scent changed abruptly. Her
sorrow and grief was so strong that Becky whined in sympathy. 'It isn't right that
Hamilton should be alone, little one. Go back. He needs you. Teach him to live again. How
to love again. This will be here when you return.'
Becky looked past the woman and into the light.
To her surprise a Visitor, false skin stripped away, had joined her parents. She whined in
'I can't force you to go back, little one. I
shouldn't even be here talking to you. The choice is yours.'
The woman vanished, leaving Becky alone. Becky
stared into the light at her friends and family then over her shoulder at the rapidly
fading paw prints.
'Should I go? Should I stay? Hamilton needs me,
she said. Hamilton? I've never heard anyone call him that before. Go or stay? Go? Stay?'
Her decision was never truly in doubt. She spun
and ran as fast as she could back the way she had come. . .
Julie reached down and picked up Becky's wrist,
meaning to place it across the girl's chest. She froze. Underneath her fingers was a
With a gently hand, Julie shifted the bodysuit to
reveal the wound underneath. Even as she and her fellow Rebels watched, the wound slowly,
"She's still alive." Julie said in
Ham stared at the car in front of them. There was
only one person in the car and he was willing to bet it was Cesaro. Ham flexed his fingers
around the butt of the gun.
"Get us closer!" He shouted. The driver
nodded and edged the car closer until they were maybe 20 feet behind the car.
He raised the Cobra 7 and rested the butt on the
driver's shoulder, using it as a support. Ahead of them, the car began to swerve from side
to side, a desperate attempt to throw off Ham's aim. Carefully the Rebel sighted and
The first bolt missed, the second ripped into a back
tire, almost taking the whole tire off. The car swerved out of control and went off the
road. It rolled twice on the way down the incline, plowing over several small trees before
coming to rest upright against a larger tree.
Vaulting off the slowing bike, Ham looked down. He
could see Cesaro climbing out of the wrecked car. For a moment the two men's eyes met then
Cesaro was free of the car. He turned and ran into the woods.
Ham pulled his lips back in a feral grin. "Stay
here! He's mine!"
The helmeted figure nodded.
Ham flung himself down the incline and ran after
Cesaro. At the car he hesitated, looking down. There was blood on the ground, leaving a
trail of blood a blind man could follow. The wounded man couldn't go far.
He followed the blood trail, keeping his gun ready.
The woods were quiet and Ham kept his ears open for any sound. His eyes scanned ahead of
Suddenly the blood trail ended.
Ham stared at the last spot of blood then flung
himself to one side. A bullet dug into the tree that had been behind him.
"The wounded are the most dangerous,
Tyler!" Cesaro's voice came from behind a big oak several yards from where Ham stood.
Quickly, bullets barely missing him, he threw himself behind a nearby boulder.
'Damn! Damn! Damn!' Ham thought. 'Tyler, you are
getting old. And stupid. Serve you right if he blew you away.'
He started to peer around the boulder only to snap
his head back as a bullet whistled past his face.
"Come out!" Cesaro taunted.
Quickly Ham checked the Cobra 7. There was only one
bolt left, only one change. He tried to think of how many bullets Cesaro had fired, how
many he had left, but Ham couldn't remember, no matter how hard he tried. He'd just have
to take a chance.
Ham took a deep breath and readied himself then
stood abruptly. He saw Cesaro clearly, standing halfway behind the oak. The two men fired
simultaneously. The Rebel felt a sharp pain in his shoulder as Cesaro's bullet plowed a
furrow across it. Cesaro wasn't so lucky as the bolt went through his shoulder, causing
him to drop the gun and spin back against tree.
Slipping the now-empty Cobra 7 into his waistband,
Ham slowly walked over to stand over the fallen man. Cesaro was sprawled on the ground,
blood flowing from a gash on his leg and the bolt hole to stain the dirt into the mud. He
looked up as Ham approached.
"Well, Tyler. So we meet again."
Ham stared at him, his face impassive. Reaching
down, the Rebel drew up his pant leg and pulled a switchblade from his boot. Still looking
at Cesaro, he flicked the blade open.
"Good-bye, Cesaro." Reaching down, he
entwined his fingers in Cesaro's hair and jerked his foe's head back. With a smooth
movement, Ham slipped the blade into one side of the man's neck and drew it across his
throat, neatly slicing the jugular vein. Blood spurted from the gaping wound, splattering
over Ham. He didn't bother waiting around to see Cesaro die. Instead, Ham wiped the blade
clean on the dying man's jacket and, after folding the blade and slipping it back in his
boot, straightened. Turning he headed back the way he had come, the sound of Cesaro's vain
attempts to breathe fading then stopping behind him.
At a rapid walk, Ham passed the wrecked car and
started up the incline. As he neared the top a hand reached down to help him. "Need a
lift, sailor?" asked a familiar voice.
Startled, Ham looked up to meet Maggie's blue eyes.
He felt a surge of unfamiliar emotion which he was surprised to realize was relief.
Scrambling up next to the woman, with her help, he stared at her, speechless. There was an
"You look like something out of an ad for a
slash movie." Maggie finally said, looking him over. Blood literally covered the man
from head to foot. Fresh blood oozed from the furrow on his shoulder to join the caked
blood. She reached up to touch the wound gently. "You're hurt."
Ham didn't hear her. He continued to stare at her
then, without warning, he reached out and pulled the startled woman to him. Their lips met
and he kissed her, long and hard. At first she resisted then slowly she reached up to
place a hand to each side of his face and returned the kiss, ignoring the smell of blood
clinging to him.
After a long moment, Maggie pulled away and looked
at Ham. She dropped her hands down onto his shoulders. "What was that for?"
"Damned if I know." He gave her a
tentative half- smile. It was the first time Maggie had seen him smile, really smile, not
the wolf's grin he always wore. She smiled back.
Ham raised his hand to gently play with her long,
blonde hair. He froze as he saw the blood caked on his arm, memory flooding back. Slowly
he looked down at himself, at the blood covering him. His face grew bitter.
"Ham?" Maggie reached out toward him then,
seeing his face, let her hands drop. She felt tears in her eyes and wondered who they were
for. "I saw." She whispered. "I'm sorry."
Ham raised his eyes to meet hers and Maggie saw that
once more they were cold and unreadable. The man who had kissed her was gone, leaving
behind the battle-hardened warrior. He turned and swung onto the bike. He looked at her.
Maggie didn't answer, just swung on behind him,
pressing her face against his back to hide her unexpected tears. She felt Ham kick the
bike to life and head back toward the formerly safe safe-house.
When they got there it was to see the Rebels
standing in a tight cluster. Ham slipped off the bike and walked toward them, his face
coldly impassive. Behind him Maggie leaned against the bike, wiping tears from her face.
The Rebels looked up as the blood-splattered
apparition approached them. then parted like the Red Sea. One young Rebel, not yet
hardened to the war--or to Ham--turned a greenish color and vanished behind the van where
her fellow Rebels could hear her being violently ill. They didn't blame her at all.
Ham ignored all of them. All he saw was the scene
within the circle.
Chris stood there, vaguely resembling a hulking bear
protecting its young, the expression on his face promising dire harm should anyone say
anything out of line. Next to him, much to Ham's surprise, was a young Visitor. He
wondered briefly where the reptilian boy had come from until he saw the helmet tucked
under the youngster's arm and realized that this had been the bike's passenger. Julie
knelt in the dirt at their feet. Stretched out at their feet, its head resting in Julie's
lap was. . .was. . .
. . .a young brown wolf with a single white mark
reminiscent of a candle flame in the center of her forehead.
Ham stared down at the wolf, struggling to keep his
composure and just barely succeeding. He saw that the wolf's brown fur was crusted with
blood and her eyes were closed but her chest moved with steady breathing. And she was the
most beautiful thing had had ever seen.
Sensing his presence, the wolf's silver eyes opened
and she looked up at him. Her tail thumped the ground as she slowly lifted her head and
looked over her shoulder at the spread-finger hand-sized raw spot on her back. Gently she
rolled over to show her uncle the half-dollar sized one on her belly. She whined softly.
Ham made no move to touch the wolf. Instead he
raised his eyes to look from Rebel to Rebel, seemingly for the first time noticing the
audience they had acquired. He scowled darkly.
"What the hell are you standing around
for?" He snapped. "You think those bastards don't have a backup? Get packed up!
I want this place clear in fifteen minutes!"
The majority of the Rebels scattering, working
quickly to pack up and get out. Behind them, the remaining group stared at Ham
incredulously. Chris and the young Visitor just stood there, the latter obviously
uncertain what to do. Ham glared at him. "That goes for you too!" He barked.
Willie grabbed the boy's collar in passing, steering
him toward the house. "Come. You can help me."
Julie looked up at Ham, her eyes pleading with him
to touch the wolf, hold her, show her he was glad she was alive, anything! He ignored her,
turning instead to walk back to the bike and Maggie. Kyle stared at his back in disgust.
"Jez!" He muttered. "What a cold
bastard! You'd think he. . ."
Kyle froze in mid-sentence, looking down at the
wolf. She was standing, albeit unsteadily, and snarling, ears flat against her skull and
silver eyes gleaming.
Ham paid no attention to what was happening behind
him. He stopped next to the bike and looked at Maggie. Noticing her tears, he reached up
to gently brush them away only to leave a smear of blood in their place. "She's going
to be okay. . ." His voice broke and the impassive mask lifted, letting Maggie see
what no other Rebel, save perhaps Chris, ever saw. . .Ham's true self. Then the mask was
back but, deep inside, Maggie knew she would see what laid underneath again.
Impulsively, the young woman hugged Ham. She felt
him stiffen then slowly return the hug. Over his shoulder she could see the small group
surrounding the wolf. The only one watching them was Chris and even from where she stood,
she could see the approving grin on his face.
Ham broke the embrace and looked at the bike. He
peered into the first bag, which was full of food, then untied the second and slung it
across his back. In mid-turn he hesitated, looking back at Maggie.
"You might want to wash up before we go."
Ham stared at her for a long moment then gave her the same tentative half-smile he had
given her earlier. Then he turned and walked back to where Becky stood growling gamely at
Kyle. Silently he knelt down next to her and gently tapped her on top of the head. She
whined and looked at him, wagging her tail.
"Come on, girlchick. We both better shower or
they won't let us in the van." Standing, Ham strolled toward the house. Behind him,
Becky started to follow then obviously finding it too painful to walk as yet, sat down and
began to cry pathetically. Ham paused then turned, walking back to where his niece sat. He
held out his arms and Becky, shifting from wolf to human, stood and wrapped her arms
around his neck. Lifting her gently, Ham carried her into the house.
Ham walked through the house, ignoring anyone they
met on the way. Finally they reached the master bedroom. Stepping inside, he closed with
his foot and gently set the girl down. Dropping to a knee, he began to strip off the
"How do you feel?" He asked as he set the
boots to one side and began to unstrap the holster/harness. On an afterthought, he slipped
the Cobra 7 from his waistband and returned it to it holster then set it aside.
"Okay." She mumbled, stripping off her
gloves. "Just tired."
"Well, you can sleep in the van. Think you can
get that bodysuit off?" At her nod, he continued. "Okay. While you get that off,
why don't you tell me what happened? From the beginning."
Becky started to talk, starting with the last of
school. Ham's face hardened as she told of her foster parents' death and of who employed
their killers. 'That's two more reasons for me to kill you, Bates.' He thought grimly as
he rose and walked into the private bath to start up the shower. After waiting long enough
for the water to run lukewarm, he poked his head back into the bedroom.
"Can you make it into the bathroom,
girlchick?" He interrupted her narrative.
"Of course!" She said indignantly. She
stood up and promptly fell on her face.
Ham chuckled and walked over to gently pick her up.
He set her in the shower.
Becky yelped as the water hit her, automatically
shifting to her transitional form. Instantly drenched, she looked up at Ham with miserable
"C'mon girl, back to human." He ruffled
her hair. "That fur smells something awful when its wet."
She obeyed and continued her narrative. Ham gently
began to scrub her clean, ignoring her occasional whimpers as he washed the blood from the
raw, red skin where the wounds had been. Though the wounds were fully closed, loss of
blood and trauma to the tissue made her weak. Ham held her steady with one arm.
When she was finally clean, he lifted her out of the
shower and rubbed her dry with a large towel, listening all the while as she completed her
tale. As she fell into a sleepy silence, her uncle scooped her up and carried her back
into the bedroom, setting her gently on the bed.
"Get dressed, honey. I'll be out in a
Becky nodded and dragged her duffel over to her,
digging into it for a fresh bodysuit. Ham headed for the dresser and, for the second time
that day, hauled out clean clothes then headed back into the bathroom. Quickly he stripped
and stepped into the shower, hurriedly scrubbing himself off.
The blood all washed off, he turned the shower off
and stepped out. Reaching for a towel, he dried of then looked into the steamy mirror.
Even with the steam, he could see the blood oozing from the shoulder wound. Opening a
nearby cabinet, Ham pulled out antiseptic, cotton, a field dressing and tape. Working as
quickly as he could, he cleaned and dressed the shoulder wound as best he could then
dressed. Heading once more into the bedroom he saw that Becky was now dressed in a black
bodysuit with white piping and was now in the process of examining her holster/harness.
She looked up as he entered.
"Look at this!" She said in disgust.
Ham bent over her, studying the tear in the harness
strap. "The bullet must have done that. You can repair it later. Right now we have to
get out of here."
"Okay." She jammed the jumble of leather
straps into her duffel then tied it shut. "You ready, unc?"
"Just about. There's a packed duffel in the
closet. Get it for me, will ya, Beck?"
As Becky walked into the closet, Ham opened the
bottom drawer of the bureau and lifted out a simple metal box with a latch. He turned just
in time to see Becky, once again in full wolf form, gamely dragging his duffel out of the
closet by its drawstrings. The man chuckled. Hearing his amusement, she wagged her tail
and leaped on top of the duffel, attacking it playfully.
Ham stiffened at a sudden thought. "Becky. .
She looked up at him and whined.
"Fess up, girl."
Instantly the wolf became human.
"What about the rest of the Emergents?" He
"They're probably on their way here."
Ham frowned. He--and the others involved with the
unique youngsters--had tried so hard to protect the Emergents from the war. But they
couldn't anymore. "How long before they get here?"
Becky shrugged. "Anytime, I guess. Depends on
what they run into."
Ham chuckled. "Or what runs into them. Got your
"Good." Picking up his duffel, Tyler slung
it over his shoulder then slipped an arm around Becky's shoulders. Together they walked
through the now-empty house and out the door.
As they exited the house, it was to see a much
smaller group of Rebels then before. Mike leaned casually against the van while Elizabeth
and the Visitor boy sat just inside the opened side door. Maggie stood nearby, next to the
"Everybody else had out?" Ham asked Mike.
"Yeah. And I suggest we do the same before the
rest of Bates' pet pigs arrive."
Ham tossed his duffel into the van and walked over
to where Maggie now straddled the cycle. "You ride this thing okay the rest of the
way to the base?"
Maggie grinned and nodded. Ham reached down and
picked up the helmet, turning it over in his hands absently then handed it to her.
"See ya back at the base." He hesitated,
looking as if he wanted to say more then turned abruptly and walked back to the van.
Maggie watched him with the vague feeling she knew what he wanted to say. She smiled.
Slipping on the helmet, Maggie kicked the bike to life. Ham climbed into the passenger
side of the van and slammed the door shut. Turning to look at the driver, he saw the
ear-to-ear grin Mike was giving him, the knowing look in the former cameraman's eye.
"What the hell you grinning about?" Ham
snarled. "Get us out of here."
Still grinning, Mike started the van and swung
around to edge over the bridge but before he could pick up speed, Ham spoke up. "Pull
over for a minute, Gooder." Mike threw him a puzzled look but stopped the van.
The motorcycle pulled up next to them. "What's
up?" Maggie pulled up her visor long enough to ask.
"You'll see." Ham stepped out of the van
and picked up the metal box. Holding it carefully, Ham turned to face the house. Flipping
open the lid, Ham stared down at the three buttons there. He pressed the one on the right.
For a moment nothing happened then the explosives attached to the house's supports
ignited. The supports collapsed and the house imploded, folding in on itself until nothing
remained except a large pile of rubble. Ham pressed the middle button. This time the
bridge exploded. Flying debris fell all around them, some hitting the van. Ham ignored it
and miraculously it all missed him.
Pressing the last button, Ham threw the box away
from as hard as he could. It exploded in mid-air. He turned and climbed back into the van.
"Let's go, Gooder."
Mike once again started down the dirt road, the
cycle falling in behind them.
"You didn't tell us about that." Mike
finally spoke up after a few minutes of silence.
Ham gave his familiar wolf's grin but said nothing.
Instead he turned to look at the three young people in the back. The trio were quietly
talking, though Becky seemed to be listening more then talking. The Visitor--
Jeffrey?--pulled a deck of cards from his pocket. Ham studied him for a long moment then
beckoned to his niece.
The girl crawled across the floor and into his lap,
curling up against his chest, her head tucked under his chin. Ham wrapped his arms around
her, lacing his fingers.
Mike stared at them in amazement, mouth open.
"Keep your eyes on the road, Gooder." Ham snapped, looking at the man beside
him. Mike met his eyes and grinned.
"I'm beginning to realize there's a lot more to
you then I first thought, hard-knocks."
Ham scowled at him darkly for a moment then looked
down at his niece. Instantly the scowl vanished to be replaced by an uncharacteristic
smile. He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "That lizard a friend of yours?" He
"Uh-huh, so you be nice of I'll turn into a
wolf an' give you rabies." She replied sleepily. "I like 'im. He's nea. .
." Her voice trailed off and Ham realized that she was fast asleep.
"Jez, I wish I had a camera."
"Glad you don't, Gooder." Ham craned his
neck at the young duo behind them. "What are you doing back there?"
Elizabeth looked up with a wide grin. "Jeff's
teaching me poker." She said.
Ham looked at her and then at Jeffrey. "No,
he's not." He said with a steel glint in his eyes.
"I'm not?" His red eyes met Ham's dark
ones then he reached down to gather up the cards. "I'm not. Ever play War?"
As Jeffrey started to teach her, Ham turned forward
and gently shifted his niece to a more comfortable position. She whimpered and clung to
him tighter. He sighed and relaxed.
The rest of the trip was made in silence and
basically uneventful. After awhile Ham dozed off, his chin resting on the top of Becky's
head. Night was just falling as they turned into the Rebel headquarters.
Mike pulled the van into the garage and shut the
engine off. Maggie parked the cycle with the rest of the cycles. She swung off the bike
and walked over to open the passenger door. "Ham?" She prodded his shoulder
gently. "We're here."
The man stirred then yawned and stretched as best he
could with Becky on his lap. His eyes opened and he looked at Maggie then down at Becky.
He shook the girl gently.
"Rise and Shine, Beck." She yawned and
rubbed her eyes. Slipping out of the van, Becky stretched then shifted abruptly to wolf
form. She shook herself vigorously then took off in a run. Ignoring everyone, the young
wolf shot out of the garage door then back in as fast as she could. She ran around the
garage, bouncing off the walls and jumping from car top to car top. Finally she skid to a
halt on the top of the van and stared down at the others for a moment, absently lolling
her tongue, then rolled on her back. She wiggled, scratching her back.
The others watched, laughing.
"Yo, Becky!" Ham finally spoke up. His
niece froze and looked at him from her upside-down position. "I take it you're
She barked and rolled to her feet, wagging her tail
so hard it hit her sides.
"Good. Come on." He turned to leave the
garage, almost running into Rico.
"Well, you're back early. We thought you were
going to stay at the safe house for awhile."
"The safe house isn't safe any longer."
Ham told him.
Maggie laughed and started out the door. "Hell,
the safe house isn't a house anymore." She said over her shoulder.
"C'mon. We'll explain inside." Mike
started past the young Indian only to stop when he saw the bright lights and heard the
noise from the tavern. "What's up?"
"Linda's birthday. We. . .ah. . .decided to
have a party."
Ham snorted. "We leave for a couple days and
the place goes to pot."
"Lay off, Ham. A little party never hurt
anybody." Mike said.
"Maybe. Come on down, Beck."
Becky shifted to transitional form and dropped to
the ground. Rico's eyes bulged. "What. . ?"
"Explain later. Now, let's join party."
As the Rebels headed for the tavern, Becky grabbed
"Wait a minute, unc. I got something for
you." Ham looked down at his niece, studying her lupine/human features. "The
computer disks." He said at last.
"Yep." She padded over to her motorcycle
and pulled the metal box from its hiding place. Silently she offered them to Ham. He took
"Julie'll be happy to see these. It should
answer all her questions about you."
"And raise new ones." Becky smirked,
shifting to full human form.
Ham sighed. "Probably. She's gonna be real mad
when she realizes I knew you all this time."
"Don't worry. I'll protect you!" She flung
her arms around her uncle and giggled. He chuckled and ruffled her hair.
"Grab your duffel, girl. Let's go join the
After dropping their duffels off at the saloon, the
duo headed for the tavern. The party was in full swing and Ham soon found himself with a
beer in hand. Becky snuck a sip and made a face. She never cared for the taste of beer.
"I'm goin' over to see Jeff, 'kay?"
"Okay, kiddo. Beat it."
Becky grinned and scuttled off. Ham sipped the beer
and searched the room for Julie. He finally spotted her standing by Mike near the bar. He
made his way over to them. "Julie."
"Hmmm?" She turned to look at him.
He held out the box. On an afterthought, he keyed it
open. "Computer disk. Everything you always wanted to know about the Emergents."
"The. . ."
"Those mutated kids in the Science Frontier
Julie slowly took the box from him. "You. .
.knew about them all this all time?"
Ham nodded, sipping his beer absently.
"And you didn't tell us?"
"No reason to." He said neutrally then
turned and walked away, feeling Julie's eyes on his back. Finding a chair to one side, ham
sat down and watched the partying rebels. He could see Maggie talking with Linda and a
couple other Rebels. Shifting his gaze, Ham saw Becky and Jeffery with Chris, the former
demonstrating her metamorphic ability to an interested--and slightly stunned--audience.
Ham sighed and drank his beer, losing himself in thought.
Unnoticed by the brooding man, Maggie left the small
group and walked over to tug Chris away from Becky. The duo talked for a moment, shooting
occasional glances at Ham. Then Maggie smiled and left the tavern. Chris looked
thoughtfully at his friend for a moment then smiled and rejoined the group around Becky.
The party was beginning to die down when Becky
approached his uncle and tapped him on the knee. "Hmmmm?" He looked at her,
realizing that she was the first person to come near him since he sat down.
"I'm going out for a run, unc. I'll see you
back at the saloon."
"Sure. You be careful. And if you think of it
catch a rabbit for supper tomorrow."
Becky grinned, shifted to full wolf form and dashed
out of the tavern. The few remaining Rebels, still not use to her ability, scattered out
of her way. It didn't faze her in the least.
Ham set down the glass he still held and stood. He
strolled out into the cool night. The moon was full and in the distance he could hear
Becky howling at it. He smiled and walked toward the saloon, lost in his thoughts.
Ham was almost to his destination when he notices a
figure leaning against the building he was passing. A closer look revealed it to be
"Willie." He said quietly.
The alien jumped then spun around. "Mr.
Ham!" Willie slumped back against the wall in relief. "You startled me."
Ham smiled. "What are you doing out here?"
Willie gestured in the direction he had been
looking. Ham could see two figures standing in the moonlight, looking at the stars.
"Elizabeth and Kyle. I am. . .uh. . .champagning."
"Chaperoning." Ham corrected absently,
eyes on the couple.
"Yes, chaperoning." Willie grinned.
"Young love. It must be very nice."
"I. . .yes. It can be." The human said
softly, eyes faraway.
Willie threw him a puzzled look but if Ham noticed
he gave no sign. Instead he continued on his walk, passing the alien and into the saloon.
He didn't bother with the lights as he navigated his way through chairs and tables to the
At the top of the stairs, Ham turned to his right
then hesitated. Turning around, he walked down the hallway toward what had been empty
bedrooms. Outside one door was Becky's duffel. Ham walked past it to the next door and put
his hand on the knob, opening it slowly.
There was no bed, just a bedroll on the floor. The
lizard. . .Jeffrey, he reminded himself sternly. . .was sleeping, his scales gleaming in
the moonlight streaming in though the glassless window. As he watched the boy shifted and
snorted, his tongue flicking out.
To his surprise, Ham smiled. Getting used to a
second Visitor--especially one without a false face--would take some time to get used to
but Becky liked him. For her sake he would try. He closed the door silently and started
down the darkened hallway only to stop abruptly when he realized that the light was on in
Quickly he slipped his gun from the shoulder holster
and clicked the safety of. Walking softly, Ham approached the door and turned the knob
slowly. Swinging it open, he leveled the gun only to freeze in astonishment at the sight
"Hello, sailor." Maggie said softly from
where she laid on the mattress that served as his bed.
Ham lowered the gun and closed the door, staring at
her. She was covered only by a sheet and, from the way it clung to her, naked. He licked
"Nice bed." Maggie commented, stretching
out on the big mattress. The movement drew the sheet down and Ham swallowed at the sight
it revealed. The woman smiled invitingly.
"Yeah, I like it." Ham walked over to her
side and set the gun down on a nearby crate. Kneeling, he gently drew the rest of the
sheet down. "I like what's in it better."
Maggie smiled and sat up. Reaching behind his neck,
she pulled down his head to kiss him. Slipping an arm around her, he eagerly returned the
kiss. Slowly she pulled him down onto the bed. Ham resisted halfway down, breaking the
kiss to study her intently.
"Why?" He asked softly.
Maggie smiled and began to unbutton her shirt.
"Damned if I know." She murmured, reaching under the shirt to stroke his chest
gently then began to pull him down again. This time, Ham didn't resist.
Becky trotted into the saloon and dropped the dead
rabbit onto the bar then headed up the stairs, her claws clicking on the wooden floor.
Scents flooded her nose. Chris, Jeffrey, Maggie, Ham. They'd all passed this way not too
Automatically, the young wolf turned to her right at
the top of the stairs, not remembering until she was almost to the end of the hall that
she wasn't back at the Harpers and here her bedroom was to the left. Turning, she headed
back the way she had come, only to hesitate when her sharp lupine hearing picked up the
sound of voices in Ham's room.
Silently, Becky padded over to the door and listened
with a cupped wolf ear. She could hear Ham and Maggie talking. No, they weren't talking.
They were. . .
Blushing as deeply as her lupine nature would allow,
Becky tucked her tail tight against her belly and scurried down the hall as fast as she