It was mid afternoon when Julie returned to the infirmary. She wasn't surprised to see Chris still there, reading a paperback book, a cup of coffee by his elbow. He looked up as she entered, nodding in greeting.
"Did you get any sleep?"
She gave him a look that said she doubted it but didn't argue as she moved the sheet covering Tyler. "Damn." She muttered, lifting his arm to stare at the gashes. Already they looked as if they had been healing for days. Gently she worked loose a strip, shaking her head in wonder. "Will he scar?" Turning his arm gently, she found herself looking at those sharp claws, now sheathed. Someone had cleaned them of the blood that had covered them the night before. While retracted, the claws weren't really noticeable, just the tips curving over the end of each finger, and Tyler's habit of wearing gloves had hidden the fact that he had no fingernails. Boots had hidden the equally sharp claws on his toes. No socks, she had been amused to notice. Claws would undoubtedly wreak havoc on them.
Chris shrugged, setting the book to one side. "Depends. Doubt he'll care."
"Any ... a ..." She glanced at the door.
"Harmony's been by. That lizard of hers flitted across the doorway a couple a times but hasn't come out ..."
"Willie." Julie reminded him, though she didn't think he needed reminding. Chris just shrugged again. "I think he's smart enough to know not to come in."
"Man, this place is buzzing." Caleb walked in the door, Sancho and Elias trailing behind him. "Rumor City. Here, Chris." He offered the other man his knife, now thoroughly cleaned. "I forgot it in the truck last night."
"And we found this, when we were cleaning the truck." Sancho held out an oval-shaped medallion. "Tyler's?"
"Yeah, thanks." Chris slipped the knife into his boot and took the medallion, bouncing it the palm of his hand thoughtfully. "What kind of rumors?"
"All kinds. The kind stirred up by a guy catching a grenade full in the chest and surviving." Caleb looked at Julie. "Gonna have to tell them something."
"Great. Chris ..."
Chris shook his head. "There's nothing I can tell ya that'll help." He caught the look on her face. "I'm serious. There's nothing I can tell ya that'll help."
Julie bit her lip to keep from arguing and sighed instead. "Okay, so we play it by ear."
"So what's new?" Donovan said from where he had been listening by the doorway. "How's he doing?"
By way of answer, Julie raised the arm she had been examining. "Healing very rapidly. Probably take the splints and strips off in a couple days. Maybe a little longer. But internal injuries would take longer?" She made the last a question and Chris answered with a nod. "How's your hand, Chris?"
"Still there. For which I am thankful." He grinned at her pained look. "Two broken fingers, five puncture wounds but no infection. Lotsa hurt."
"I got something. Something safe." He added at her concerned look.
"What's that?" Donovan gestured at the medallion Chris was still idly bouncing in his hand. Chris hesitated then flipped it to the other man.
'That' was a oval medallion of what appeared to be ivory. Carved into one side were three figures, only the middle one appeared to be anywhere close to human. Of the other two, one appeared to be wearing a spacesuit of some kind, the other was insect-like, with four legs, four arms, and a head similar to a grasshopper's. All were armed - spear, sword, axe - and armored. The other side was flat and had odd alien symbols carved into it.
"What is it?" Donovan asked.
Chris shrugged. "Good luck charm, I guess. Ham never really explained."
"I thought maybe it was something, you know, religious." Sancho said.
Chris chuckled, shaking his head. "Ham once told me, and I quote, 'All our Deities play with loaded dice so we don't pay much attention to them.'. Nope, that's just something most of his people apparently carry." He reached out and took the medallion back, slipping it into his shirt pocket. "He usually has it sown into his jacket, keeps folks from asking questions about it."
Julie pulled the sheet back up. "He's definitely healing. How well and how fast, I can't really tell. Chris, we have to tell people something. How about just the basics? He is alien, isn't he?"
Chris frowned, obviously torn but finally, reluctantly answered. "Yeah, he is."
"And he's been here for at least ... what ... twenty years?"
This time, Chris shrugged. "I've known him for sixteen years. He was two years in 'Nam before that."
"Why is he here?" Donovan asked.
Chris shook his head. "You'll have to ask him that. But I can tell ya it had nothing to do with the Visitors. He was as surprised as anyone else when we found out that they were here."
"You sound like you didn't know they had arrived." Caleb pulled himself up to sit on a nearby table.
"We didn't." Chris said in a disgusted tone. "We were out of touch. Mission." He added, shooting a baleful look at Donovan. "When we finally found out about the arrival, they'd already been here for three weeks! Too late to do anything about it." He paused. "All Ham could do was get word to his guys, the guys we were with in 'Nam. Told them to grab what they could, get underground fast. Luckily the majority did or we wouldn't have the worldwide network we got now."
"Ham started the World Liberation Front?" Donovan asked, startled.
"The guys started it." Chris corrected. "Ham just made sure they were alive and out of the Visitors' reach."
"Did he know the Visitors were a danger to Earth? Before they arrived?" Donovan asked warily.
Chris frowned, obviously thinking he may have already said too much but he answered in a reluctant tone. "Did he know the Visitors were a danger? Yes. To Earth? No."
Julie jumped in quickly, hoping to get a couple more answers before Chris clammed up. "Is he part of the Alliance that Martin mentioned?"
"No." Chris said curtly. "He had no idea what that was when we heard about it. Still doesn't."
"Then where ..." Donovan started but Chris was shaking his head.
"Don't bother asking where he came from. I don't know. Not for certain. He'll have to explain that."
"Kinda hard to believe you know a guy's an alien for sixteen years and you never bothered to ask questions." Elias said, leaning against the wall nearby.
Anger flashed briefly in Chris' eyes. "I only knew that for fourteen years." He rubbed his scarred arm absently. "And it didn't matter. Didn't then, doesn't now. Oh, I know some things but not enough to answer the questions you want to ask." He nodded at Tyler. "He's the only one who can answer those questions."
Julie suspected that was all they were going to get from Chris. At least for now. "Elias, can you get everyone together in the saloon for a meeting? We better give them the basics, maybe keep them from making something up even worse. Coming, Chris?"
Chris shook his head. "Nothing I say will help. I'll stay here."
Julie hesitated, wondering if she should insist but they couldn't afford to make an enemy of him, especially now. "All right." Chris gave her a look that made her realize that he has expected her to insist and her response had somehow scored a point in her favor. She took another chance. "Should I send Harmony over later to spell you?"
He hesitated then nodded, running a hand over his face and for the first time, they could see how tired he really was. "Sure, thanks."
Julie nodded and followed the others out of the door.
"Harmony?" Donovan asked once they were outside.
"Harmony is a pacifist. Pretty much the only person in this group Chris can be fairly sure wouldn't try to hurt Tyler."
Donovan looked scandalized. "Hey, wait a minute ..."
"Mike, that coma Tyler's in, he can't get out of it. He is totally vulnerable. It's a situation neither he nor Chris care for but one they can't avoid. If it's happened before, I suspect Tyler went to ground. Hid himself to heal in safety. This time he couldn't. And there's a lot of people here who don't like him. Including you."
"I hate what he does ..." Julie looked at him, raising an eyebrow. "All right. Sometimes I hate him. But no way would I hurt someone who's totally helpless. Not even him."
Julie looked at the saloon, where Resistance members were gathering. "But Chris can't be certain of that, can he? And there are others, who maybe won't care for anyone who isn't human." She paused then shrugged. "Come on, let's get this over with."
The meeting went pretty much as Julie expected it would. After several minutes of 'Another alien?' and "What the hell do we do now?", Caleb stood up and shouted everyone down.
"Look, nothing's changed. We didn't particularly like or totally trust Tyler before, we still don't now. So what's the big deal? He's alien but he is not a Visitor. He may have claws but he bleeds red and he is not wearing any kind of mask, that I can personally guarantee. He's done what he said he was going to do ... got us weapons, got us tools, got us training. I say we wait it out. Just keep going the way we have been. Find out more when he wakes up."
"But what's he doing here? How could he have been on this planet for so long with no one knowing it?" Jake Hansen asked. "I mean, he was in the army, wasn't he?"
"Maybe they did know." Someone else said. After a moment, the speaker stood up and Julie recognized Rico Jones, a newer member of the Resistance. Tall and lean with long black hair, he had joined then less then a week ago and had been working with Father Andrew funneling supplies into the camp. "There's physicals, yeah. Not to mention practically living on top of each other for months on end. Okay, maybe he managed to hide the differences during the physicals but I'm willing to bet at least a few of the men he served with knew. The rest probably suspected but I think maybe they just didn't care. 'Nam was a damn hellhole, a guy with claws could be pretty handy. And you'd be amazed at the kind of secrets people who'd been through that kind of hell together can keep."
Silence followed that statement, broken finally by Julie. "Did you know Tyler then?"
"Not really. Same company, different platoons. But I knew of him. He got his guys through some of the toughest shit imaginable, most of them came back alive." Rico paused then continued, his face and voice both remarkably expressionless. "Rumor has it, after we pulled out of 'Nam, Tyler would slip back in, searching for POWs and MIAs, bringing them back if he could. I know some guys who owe him a hell of a lot more then their lives. If he contacted them and told them to pack up and go to ground, they'd do it. Without question."
"Including you?" Donovan asked.
"I got the message through a friend of a friend. But yeah. I listened."
"Mike, you did stories on this guy." Elias spoke up. "Wasn't there any hints?"
"None. But then I could never get any of the men who'd served with him to talk to me." He looked at Rico, who just shrugged and sat back down. "None of them ever had anything to say. And his records were pretty sparse. I always did wonder about those damn gloves though."
"What about the Visitors?" Maggie asked. "Wouldn't they know something about these aliens? Whatever kind it is that Tyler is?"
"Maybe. I'll get a message to my contact, see if we can meet. And maybe see if I can get ahold of any of my old contacts in the media and military as well."
"I'll get a message out through my contacts in the church." Father Andrew said. "Missionaries go to a lot of different places, isolated places and I'd bet if there is ... if there were ... any more of Tyler's people here, that's where they'd be."
Julie gave a short laugh. "'A Johnny in New York, a Tom in Mississippi, a William in Switzerland, an Allan in Africa'." She glanced at Donovan. "Not much to go on. As long as they wore gloves and kept from being injured, they could hide among us forever."
"And probably have." Hansen muttered darkly. People looked as each other uneasily.
"I could try the Peace Corp." Maggie said. "We went to isolated places."
"Maybe the police files." Mark said. "I still have some friends in the force."
"Fine. We'll do that. Gather what info we can." Julie said. "But we'll also continue the way we have been. We got some more raids coming up. We hit that water plant in thirty-one days and we had better be ready. Harmony, would you mind going over and staying with Tyler, give Chris a chance to sleep? We'll need him tomorrow."
"Wait a minute. How far can we trust him?" Elias asked.
Julie was expecting that question. "Probably the same as we trusted him before. As far as I can tell, his loyalty is to Tyler ..."
"Not too surprising." Maggie cut in suddenly. Seeing the questioning looks, she continued. "That grenade was aimed for Chris. Tyler shoved him out of the way and took the blast himself." She paused for a moment, letting that sink in. "No way could Chris have survived that blast. No way could Tyler know for sure he would survive it. But he knew his chances were better then Chris' would be. So if you need anyone else to sit with him, I volunteer."
"Count me in." Caleb spoke up. "Maybe I can catch up with my reading."
"Me, too." Sancho shrugged at the looks the others gave him, remembering that Tyler and Farber's first meeting with the LA Resistance had involved hauling him and Mark in by the scuff of their necks. "Hey, you spend thirty minutes digging metal out of some guy, you kinda wanna make sure he makes it, y'know?"
Julie smiled slightly. "Yeah, I know. Thanks, guys. It'll be a big help. Okay, everybody. Let's get back to work."
During the first week another raid was executed, netting them some much-needed medical supplies, including several packs of liquid nutrition and, much to Julie's relief, a portable x-ray machine. She suspected Elias had made a special effort to get it and she made a point of thanking him profusely. With Robert's help, she set it up, thankful that the infirmary had it's own generator. It took some maneuvering to get the x-rays developed but it proved worth it when small pieces of shrapnel were revealed still buried in Ham's chest and arms. One such piece was embedded in bone, preventing the right arm from healing. She removed that one and as many of the others as she could. Once Julie was certain she had removed all she possibly could, she and Robert proceeded to study the x-rays for a far different reason, comparing them to other x-rays.
On the fifth afternoon, Donovan walked in to find the two of them in an involved discussion. No one else was in the room; they had moved Tyler into a small room off of the main one two days ago in an attempt to keep the curious away. Of course, having a glowering Chris sitting guard did help scare most people away.
"Finding anything interesting?" He asked.
Julie looked over her shoulder. "Lots of things. Come here." Three x-rays were lined up on the light panels and she tapped the middle one. "This is a human's x-ray ... Elias' actually. This one," She tapped the one to the right. "Is Willie's. Very much alike. Organs in slightly different alignment, slightly different shape and size but still pretty much the same. Now, over here ..." Julie pulled down Willie's x-ray and set it aside before moving to the x-ray on the left. "This is Tyler's."
Donovan compared the two, frowning. Julie continued.
"Recognizable organs pretty much in the same place, though a number of them are smaller. More compact. I suspect they're also more efficient." She pointed. "Secondary heart here but currently not functioning. The appendix there. From what we've seen so far, I'd say it's not the useless organ we humans have. It must do something but we have no idea what. And there." She pointed to a mass at the top of the lungs. "Also not currently functioning and no idea what it's supposed to do."
"Since it's at the top of the lungs ... looks like it's connected to the lungs ... it probably has something to do with breathing." Robert spoke up. "Maybe it lets him hold his breath longer. Or filters out toxins. Something along those lines."
"Bone seems denser. By the way, those claws are made of bone. Super-dense bone. I'm not surprised he managed to tear those gashes in the truck bed. I'm surprised he didn't do a lot more damage to Chris' hand."
"Where is Farber?" Donovan asked.
"In with Tyler." Julie said quietly. "He's clammed up totally and I don't want to push it. We can't afford to alienate him."
"Julie, look at this ..." Robert gestured at the x-ray. Donovan grinned and left the two scientists absorbed in their work. He stepped to the doorway of the small room they had moved Tyler into and looked in. Chris was sitting comfortably in a battered easy chair someone had found, filling clips with the new teflon bullets. He looked up as Donovan entered, eyes wary. Donovan just nodded a greeting and moved to Tyler's side.
The splints had already been moved, along with several of the surgical strips that had been holding the gashes closed. The least of the injuries were almost completely healed, the others were healing rapidly. After a moment, Donovan walked back out into the outer room and over to Julie.
"Is it my imagination or is Farber better armed then the majority of the camp?" He asked in a low voice.
"Noticed that, uh? Yeah, I don't think he trusts everyone's intentions concerning Tyler."
"A little paranoid, isn't he? In case he's forgotten, we're the good guys."
"Maybe not." Robert said quietly. He glanced over toward the sickroom. "There's some people who are really unhappy about the possibility of another type of alien on Earth. I have a feeling that if it weren't for Chris standing guard, someone might try something."
"Who?" Julie was surprised. "I haven't heard anything."
"I don't know. Just talk. She said then he said then she said."
"It's a little short-sighted of whoever it is." Julie said. "Whoever Tyler's people are, I doubt they'd be very happy if he gets killed by people he's trying to help."
"If that's what he's really trying to do." Robert muttered.
"Yeah, well, I got a message out to Martin. Maybe he'll have some answers for us." Donovan paused thoughtfully then asked. "Can we trust the people who are taking turns sitting with him?"
"I think so." Julie smiled slightly. "They may not like him or trust him but I think they respect him." She glanced at the x-rays. "Now scoot and like us get back to our work." Donovan chuckled and scooted.
Another week passed. Julie was alarmed to see a few new wounds, caused by shrapnel she had missed working it's way out of Tyler's body but all she could do was work the jagged metal free and tape the new gashes closed. A more thorough run of x-rays showed no remaining shrapnel. By the end of that week, all the surgical strips could be removed, leaving behind puckered pinkish scars where the horrible gashes had been.
By the third week, even those faint scars had faded completely and every test Julie could think of showed all injuries were healed. Despite this, Tyler showed no signs of waking up and Chris was starting to resemble an angry bear with a sore tooth. Everyone did their best to stay out of his way. That was when Willie finally told Harmony what he had heard on that first night and when Harmony went to Julie and Donovan.
"When did Chris say this?" Julie asked sharply.
"That first night. Willie says you'd all already left the building. He said Chris sounded worried. Really worried."
"'If he wakes up.' So Farber isn't sure Tyler's going to wake up?" Donovan asked.
"I don't know! I'm just telling you what Willie heard."
"It would explain Chris' short temper. I think we better talk to him." Julie said quietly.
Donovan nodded. Yeah, I think so."
They found Chris sitting in the easy chair, efficiently sharpening a knife. He glanced up, eyes wary, as they entered the room then back down at what he was doing.
"Chris ..." Julie started then asked abruptly. "How long does one of these healing sleeps last?"
The knife stopped moving across the whetstone and Chris looked at her warily. "Depends ..."
"What's the longest they last?" She asked insistently and a mixture of panic and pain flashed through the man's eyes.
"Fifteen days." He said bitterly. "Fifteen fucking days!"
"It's been seventeen ..." Donovan started.
"Yeah, I noticed that!" Chris snapped, his look fierce, his grip on both knife and whetstone so tight his knuckles were white.
"So it's possible he may not wake up?"
Chris hesitated. "It's possible. Apparently it's happened."
"What happens then?" Julie asked.
Chris looked at her and she was shocked at the pain in his eyes. After a long moment, he looked down at the blade he'd sharpened to a razor's edge then, with a decisive move, he thrust the knife into the sheath in his boot and rose, walking from the room, leaving Julie reeling with sudden understanding.
"What the ... wait a minute ..."
Julie grabbed Donovan's arm, hanging on tightly. "Wait, Mike."
"It occurs to me that if you are in the middle of a war zone and are not only very hard to kill but heal while in a coma-like state, that it would be very handy to have an associate who knew how to kill you. Just in case."
Donovan froze. "No. No way!"
Julie tightened her grip on his arm, suddenly wanting to cry. "I don't like it but it makes sense. If we had to move base quickly or if Tyler simply doesn't wake up ... If it was a choice between killing him or letting him fall into Diana's hands ... Can you imagine what Diana could do ... would do ... with someone who could heal virtually any wound?"
"But to ask Chris ..."
"Who else could he trust? Remember, before he went to sleep, Ham said something? Something Chris didn't like? I think maybe he asked Chris to promise him ..."
"And Chris did. Damn."
"And Chris did."
"So what do we do now?" Donovan asked.
"We keep hoping he wakes up. Soon."
"And if he doesn't ..."
"Then we stay out of Chris' way. And help him through it as best we can." She was crying now, softly and without really realizing it. Donovan slipped his arms around her, holding her close.
"I'm meeting with Martin tomorrow. Maybe he can tell us something that'll help." He held her for a moment then cursed bitterly. "Damn it, I don't like the guy but ..."
"Files concerning other alien species are locked." Was the first thing Martin said when they met the next morning. Caleb accompanied Donovan for the meet and Donovan explained the latest development on the way. After he finished swearing venomously, Caleb promised not to say anything to anyone else as yet. "But I managed to get some information. The aliens you asked about, the ones that look human but with claws? They are from the planet Barbaros, part of a confederation of planets."
"The Leader's enemy?" Donovan asked.
"I don't know." Martin paused then sighed. "You have to understand that much of our information, our history is what the Leader wants it to be. I couldn't access the files that explain exactly who or what that enemy is. Just that there is one. Maybe more then one. But I did find out that an occasional Barbarosian has been captured. Usually they were released but sometimes, when the Leader could get away with it, they were turned over to our scientists."
Donovan had seen what happened to people who were turned over to Visitor scientists. The next word came out reluctantly. "And?"
Martin looked at him, expressionless. "Barbarosians are very hard to kill. And they heal very quickly."
"I take it this was found out the hard way?" Caleb asked.
"Yes." Martin paused. "Is there a Barbarosian on Earth?"
Donovan and Caleb looked at each other for a long moment. "We think so." Donovan finally said. "We're not sure ..."
Something like alarm crossed Martin's face. "He's in a coma?"
Donovan nodded and Martin visibly paled. "Be careful. Diana mustn't get her hands on him."
"There's a ... contingency plan in place. But if they can't be brought out of the coma ..."
"There are ways." There was sickness in the Visitor's voice.
"How?" Donovan asked, sudden hope flaring but Martin was shaking his head.
"You don't want to know." He said sharply. "And if you did know, I'd sincerely hope none of you would be capable of doing it."
Donovan felt his stomach lurch and a look at Caleb told him the other man was experiencing the same nausea.
"Was Diana involved in the torture of the ones who were captured?" Caleb asked.
"No. No Barbarosian has been captured for maybe 70 years but there is documentation of research done. Including visual recordings." Martin's eyes looked bleak.
"Which Diana likes to watch?" Donovan guessed.
"Yes." Martin hesitated. "Barbarosians can heal almost any wound. They can also regenerate body parts. Fingers, limbs, eyes, sometimes even internal organs ..."
"Oh God." Caleb swallowed hard and Donovan paled. "Your people found this out ..."
"There are times," Martin broke into Caleb's accusing sentence. "When I don't like my people very much." After a moment, Caleb nodded and Martin continued. "They do eventually die. Sometimes they slip into a coma they cannot be awakened from or they just ... die. The longest one has been kept alive is three years. They cannot be driven insane and it is believed that they can't be converted but there has not been a live subject for Diana to test that theory on."
"We'll try real hard not to give her one." Caleb muttered.
"Is there anything else you can tell us?" Donovan asked.
"I can't. But there's someone with your group who might be able to."
"What? Who?" Donovan asked sharply.
"You have one of my people. Earth name William. Shortly after you captured him, his family on the home world was arrested for spreading forbidden knowledge. The House of Xon. Sometimes called the religion of Xon. If he hadn't been with you, he would probably be under arrest himself. Or dead."
"What does this house ... this religion have to do with ... with the Barbarosian?" Donovan barely caught himself before saying Tyler's name, something they didn't want to reveal as yet.
"I don't know. It's been forbidden for a thousand years. But legend has it that, a thousand years ago, my people had friendly trade with other species, including, apparently, the Barbarosian. That friendly trade ended about the same time the House of Xon was forbidden. What we are told is that the followers of Xon and the other species were conspiring to take over our planet and the then Leader drove them off."
"But you don't believe it." Caleb said.
"No, I don't. I think there's more to the story. William might be able to tell you more. But how much will be history and how much legend, I couldn't guess at."
"We'll ask him. Thanks, Martin."
"Good luck." Martin faded into the shadows and the two men turned to walk back to the truck. Caleb opened the passenger door before pausing.
"Mike, we can't let Chris kill Tyler."
"We can only hope Tyler wakes up ..."
"No, I mean, we can't let Chris kill him, if it comes to that. Alien or not, the man's his closest friend. He got those wounds saving Chris' life. If he has to kill him ... "
Mike rested his forehead against the cool metal of the cab, trying to imagine what it would be like to have to kill someone you cared for, had such a close bond with. Martin, Julie, or, God forbid, Sean. Could he do it? More to the point, could he trust someone else to do it?
"We'll just have to do our best." He said finally, pulling the door open. "Let's get the hell out of here."
Author Notes: Xon or Zon? House or Religion? This part
may be rewritten a bit once I figure those two things out.
For an idea of who Rico Jones is, watch the episode, The Conversion. In the last act, when Tyler is on the ground after shooting Bates and Chris is moving to grab his collar, a long-haired man leaps in front of them to give cover. That's Rico Jones. He has a semi-prominent part in V-The Emergents. How prominent his part will be here as yet, I don't know.