"Tyler's right about one thing." Julie winced at the sound of her own voice and pressed the ice pack to her aching head. "We should keep it to a small group. Too many people and I think he'll clam up." She looked over at Donovan, sitting in a nearby chair with his own matching ice pack. "Are you all right?"
"Not so loud." He groaned then added. "I don't remember drinking that much."
"Neither do I. The worst part is I'm pretty sure Chris was still fairly sober about the time I gave up."
"I noticed that too. Are you sure he's human?"
"Positive. I did a comparison blood test on him and Tyler. Chris is definitely human. Tyler isn't. It wouldn't be noticeable with a standard blood test but if you really look, you can spot the differences. Now about the meeting ..."
"Some people are really unhappy about having Tyler here. They won't like it if they're kept out of a meeting concerning him."
"We need to know more about him, about what he or his people can do to help us, more then we need to soothe hurt feelings. So who do you think?" She drew a doodle on the pad in front of her then started writing. "Robert, for one. Being an anthropologist may help."
"The guys who were on the raid with him. Considering what they went through, they deserve to hear what he has to say."
Julie dutifully wrote down their names: Caleb, Sancho, Maggie, Mark. "And Elias?"
Donovan nodded. "Ouch. Yes. And Father Andrew. He might be able to keep things calmed down."
"Hmmmmm. How about Harmony?" Julie tapped the pen against the table thoughtfully then wrote her name down. "I'm thinking maybe we should include Rico as well."
Donovan threw her a surprised look. Compared to others in the camp, Rico was very new to the group.
"He knows Tyler ... of Tyler ... and, well I don't know, it might help."
"I suppose it can't hurt. What about Hansen? He's been the most vocal against Tyler."
"We don't need someone who's going to be openly antagonistic. We have you for that." Julie grinned at Donovan's scowl. "No, how about Natalie? She agrees with Hansen but I think she's more willing to listen. Anyone else?"
"It's too bad ..." Donovan cut off his words suddenly and Julie looked at him sharply.
"What?" She asked.
"Nothing." He moved the ice pack over his eyes.
He sighed. "It's too bad Ruby isn't here. She and Tyler apparently hit it off."
Julie felt a familiar pang of grief at the thought of the woman who had died during her rescue. "Oh?'
"Yeah. Rumor has it Tyler told her that if she made it back, he'd tell her his life story."
Julie looked down at her list, the names blurred by unshed tears. "I wonder if he would have told her the truth."
"Who knows?" Donovan pulled off the ice pack and tossed it onto the table. "I think maybe we better go talk to Tyler and find out when he'll be up to the meeting."
Harmony looked up as they entered the infirmary. "If you're looking for Tyler, he's already gone."
Julie stopped, surprised. "Gone? Gone where?"
Harmony shrugged. "He was gone when I came in a couple hours ago. I assumed he went back to the RV."
Donovan stepped over to the small room. The books and backpack was gone, the bed had been stripped. There was no sign that anyone had ever been in the room, much less been there for three weeks. "Let's check the RV."
The RV Chris and Tyler shared was parked inside the mock stable. Several long tables ran the length of the walls, serving as workspace for the duo. Chris was at one such table, working on a variety of arrows and bolts. He looked up at their approach and grinned cheerfully. Julie cut him off before he could say anything.
"You speak in anything other than a normal tone and I swear I'll shoot you."
Chris' grin broadened. "That won't help your hangover."
"You're the one who's supposed to be hung over." Donovan complained.
The other man shrugged.
"Tyler here?" Donovan nodded at the closed door of the RV.
"Yep. I don't recommend disturbing him though."
"We need to talk."
"Yeah, I know. A few more hours, he'll be ready." Chris didn't look too happy.
"You think differently?" Julie asked.
"I'd prefer a few more days but Ham figures people won't be too happy about that. So make it about five this afternoon. That is." He grinned broadly. "If anyone is in any condition to come."
Both Julie and Donovan gave him nasty looks. "We'll be in the saloon."
Chris nodded before turning his attention back to the arrows. "Later."
"Yeah, later." The couple turned and walked away.
Chris waited until they had left the building before putting the arrow he'd been working on carefully on the workbench. Climbing the ladder into the hayloft, he walked back to where bales of hay screened off a section of the loft. Ham was there, kneeling on an old blanket, hands resting lightly on his thighs, his eyes closed. He looked totally relaxed and unaware of his surroundings but Chris had learned long ago that appearances were deceiving, especially where Ham was concerned.
"A few more days?" Ham said quietly.
"It would be better." Chris pointed out, leaning against the hay bales.
"For us, maybe. For them, no." He opened his eyes with a sigh. "I hate having to explain. It was hard enough with just you and ..." His voice faltered and he left the sentence unfinished.
"You knew it was gonna happen sooner or later. This kinda war, you couldn't have kept it hidden forever. I was always amazed we managed to keep it hidden this long." He studied his friend for a moment, seeing a side of him very few other people ever saw. His true self, with no mask to conceal how tired and unbalanced he was at the moment. Chris knew Ham's body was still working at readjusting itself to the intense healing that had been forced on it over the last three weeks. This was definitely not a good time for any kind of confrontations.
All he could do was hope Donovan realized that.
"What you gonna tell them?" He asked.
Ham blinked and reached up to rub at his eyes. "The truth. Not the whole truth but ... last thing we need is to lie to them and have them discover it later. That would make us look as bad as the Visitors." He paused. "What do they know?"
Chris hesitated and Ham gave him a sharp look. "They've been asking questions. Donovan's gotten a bit of information from his lizard buddy ..."
Ham's face hardened. "So Diana knows ..."
"Maybe not. Maybe he's on the up and up."
Ham snarled an alien word with contempt and Chris shifted uneasily. He wanted to point out that it had been over eight hundred years but he knew Ham's people were quite capable of holding a grudge until it died of old age then having it stuffed, mounted and enshrined in the local Legacy House just so they could revisit it later.
"So what did he say?"
"He didn't seem to know much. Just knew that you were a Barbarosian and that ..." He hesitated. "That your people heal quickly, etc, etc. That some of your people who have disappeared were captured by his ..." He cut off his words as Ham's eyes flared amber with rage. Chris stood perfectly still, hoping the rage would pass, knowing the wrong word or gesture could send the man into a berserker state but if nothing else, his time on Earth had taught his friend self-control. The heat faded until Ham's eyes were ice-cold.
"And?" He asked in a tightly controlled voice.
Chris cleared his throat. "Apparently Willie's a follower of Xon ..." He ignored Ham's disbelieving snort. "And he gave them some more info. Not much. Just bits and pieces." He grinned suddenly. "Except that Xon's a dragon."
Ham chuckled, visibly relaxing. "Bet that went over big".
Chris relaxed as well. "Yeah. I don't think anyone believe's it but ..." He ran through the rest of the compiled information.
Ham listened thoughtfully. "Interesting. Let me know when it's almost time, okay?"
"'Kay." He watched as Ham let his hands drop and he straightened again, working his way back into the trance-state that helped rebalance body and mind.
Julie walked into the saloon to the smell of fresh coffee. Caleb was at the machine, filling several mugs and handing them around to the former partygoers. Only Father Andrew and Robert looked reasonably well; the priest because he hadn't had anything to drink and Robert because he had left early. She couldn't help but think the rest looked worse then Tyler had after taking a grenade full in the chest.
"Sancho will be here as soon as he can figure out how to get out of his bed." Caleb said in way of greeting. "Something about the floor being too far away."
Julie blinked. "He sleeps on a mattress on the floor!"
"So you see the problem." Caleb sank into a chair next to his son, who was resting his head on the table. Elias muttered an incoherent 'thanks' as he set a mug in front of him.
"Help has arrived." Harmony appeared in the doorway, a pitcher in her hands. "Chris sent this over. A surefire cure for hangovers."
Julie snatched up a nearby mug and held it out. "Pour." Was all she said and Harmony obeyed, laughing.
"Sure that's safe?" Natalie said as she followed Harmony inside.
"If it's what he uses, I don't care if it's safe or not. I know it works. And, no, I don't want to know what's in it." Julie took a swallow and then made a face.
"He said it's best if you just glug it down." Harmony said as she dug out a stack of Styrofoam cups and handed them out, filling them as she went.
"Could you run a cup over to Sancho? It might help him get moving." Caleb
took a cup gingerly, setting another one in front of Elias.
"Sure." Harmony filled another cup and set the pitcher on the table. Donovan passed her as she walked out and Julie immediately offered him a full cup of the drink.
"Hangover cure. Sent over by Chris."
"Ah." Donovan chugged the glass down, grimacing. "I remember this stuff from college. Even tastes the same."
"So that's what it reminds me of." Mark tossed his crumpled cup toward a nearby trash can. It fell well short.
"I wouldn't have thought Farber went to college." Natalie said somewhat snidely as she joined Mark and Maggie at their table.
"Didn't." Farber said cheerfully from the doorway. "Went to 'Nam. Pretty much the same thing." He stepped in and to one side, revealing Tyler standing in the doorway.
Donovan wasn't sure what he expected. He certainly didn't expect Tyler to look the same as he had before his three-week sleep. Same black shirt, same black jeans, same battered black leather jacket, same boots, same cool calculating look of mild contempt. Only the ever-present gloves were gone but there was an addition; the ivory medallion now hung on a thick gold chain around his neck.
"Trying to out drink Chris is never a good idea." Tyler went to the coffee pot, picking up two mugs and filling them. "He's almost drunk me under the table once or twice and I burn it off almost as fast as I drink it." He turned and offered a mug to the other man. Chris accepted it and retreated to a nearby empty table while Tyler settled onto a barstool.
"Sounds handy." Donovan remarked.
Tyler glanced at him, his eyes unreadable. "Not always." Then he frowned, his eyes shifting to the door just as Rico entered. The long-haired man paused, meeting Tyler's speculating eyes with his own then Tyler raised his mug in a silent salute. Rico smiled slightly and nodded before making his way over to the coffee pot. Filling a mug, he joined Chris at his table.
"Never forget a face?" Donovan asked and Tyler gave him his customary humorless smile.
"Never forget a scent." He corrected.
Donovan paused with his mug just short of his lips, looking at the man next to him. Tyler stared back, amusement flashing briefly in his dark eyes.
"What the hell are you?" Natalie asked.
Tyler's eyes flickered to her. "Not human." He looked back at Donovan. "But not Visitor." He paused to look at the door again. Sancho and Harmony came in, Sancho muttering in Spanish under his breath. The two grabbed mugs of coffee and settled at nearby tables.
Ham glanced at Caleb and nodded at Sancho. "He still swearing?"
"He's managed to keep it up on and off for the last three weeks." Caleb met Tyler's eyes. "Not too surprising, considering."
Donovan was surprised to see Tyler shift uncomfortably. "Is this everyone you invited?" He asked Donovan curtly.
"Yeah. And you still haven't answered Natalie's question." Donovan knew that he was going about this all wrong but Tyler was rubbing him the wrong way more then usual. Part of him knew that Tyler was doing it deliberately, his way of dealing with a situation he didn't like but that didn't help.
"I thought your scaly buddy told you." Tyler sneered.
"That's enough!" Julie said sharply. "Out of both of you. We don't have the time or the patience for your usual verbal sparring." Out the corner of her eye, she saw Chris hide a grin behind his mug and had a feeling he approved of her tactics. She waited until Donovan reluctantly backed up to sit on a barstool. "Martin didn't know much. Apparently, their leader doesn't like his people to know too much. He knew where you came from and ..." She stopped, seeing by the look in Tyler's eyes that he already knew the rest.
"That we can heal almost any wound. Even regenerate." He finished for her emotionlessly. "You have to wonder how they found that out."
"You already know the answer to that."
There was no change in Tyler's expression but Julie could see sudden flashes of white against the black mug he held and knew those deadly claws were unsheathed. A dispassionate part of her mind observed that if Tyler lashed out, he could cut her throat open and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him. Or to save her.
"The same way they are finding out about us humans, amigo." Sancho said suddenly. "By taking our people apart."
At Sancho's words, something changed in Tyler's eyes. The challenge seemed to drain from them, leaving behind a soul-deep weariness.
"Yes." He said quietly and Julie saw that the claws had retracted. Tyler leaned back against the bar, his eyes once again unfathomable. "Ask your questions."
"Can your people help us?"
"No." Tyler said bluntly. "Not ... officially."
"Earth isn't a Confederation world. The Visitors aren't part of the Confederation. The Confederation has no jurisdiction nor right to interfere."
"Somehow that doesn't sound like something you'd subscribe to, Tyler." Donovan said. Julie shot him an angry 'shut up!' look and Donovan fell silent. Tyler ignored him.
"You said not officially. What can the Confederation do for us unofficially?"
"The Confederation? Nothing. The beings in the Confederation?" He smiled slightly, teeth showing. "As much as we can possibly get away with."
"Can't you just ask them for help?" Natalie asked. "If they knew they had people in danger here, I'd think they'd have to do something."
Tyler's lips thinned and he answered curtly. "I can't ask for help. The Confederation can't offered it."
"Why not?" Natalie demanded.
Tyler slid off the stool, going to the coffee pot to refill his mug. Turning, he leaned back against the wall. "In the Confederation, I'm what's known as an Outrider. We go to inhabited non-Confederation worlds -- usually low-tech, usually pre-space travel -- to ..." He paused thoughtfully. "To keep an eye on them. So to speak. But there are other space-traveling worlds, other gatherings of worlds, and in order to co-exist, there are rules that have to be followed. One of those rules is that, as long as an Outrider is on a non-Confederation planet, we are ..." He paused again, obviously searching for the right word. "Expendable."
"Expendable?" Julie couldn't hide the disbelief in her voice.
"We can't ask for help. The Confederation can't offer it. If I get captured by the Visitors, I'm as dead as any one of you."
"Only in his case." Chris cut in. "It'll take a hell of a lot longer to die."
"And the Confederation wouldn't be able to do a thing about it." Tyler continued. "They could take me apart on live television and send the pieces back home and no being could do a damn thing about it. Officially, as long as I'm on this planet, I don't exist."
A long silence greeted that statement. Finally, Donovan spoke up. "Seems a little ... harsh."
"You might call it a defense mechanism. Keeps the Confederation from being dragged into ugly situations. Don't look so horrified, Gooder. We're all volunteers. We all know what we're getting into."
"Why do you keep an eye on other planets?" Natalie asked. "More importantly, why Earth?"
"Does it matter?"
"I'm just wondering if maybe this Confederation and the Visitors have the same intentions concerning Earth." She said curtly.
Several of the others shifted uneasily but Tyler only gave her his usual teeth-baring smile. "Hardly. The Visitors are here to suck the planet dry, among other things. I'm here to help you keep that from happening."
"Does it matter?" Tyler repeated.
"Leave off, lady." Chris said suddenly. "That's as good an answer as you're gonna get."
Natalie looked ready to argue but Julie stepped back into the discussion. "What kind of help will we get from your people?"
"The kind you're getting right now. Training. Weapons. Tools. We're limited by what we can bring to the Earth."
Tyler frowned. "We can't give you things that are obviously Confederation. Everything we bring has to be either something you could have stolen from the Visitors or something you could have created on your own. We've got some people smuggling things in but it won't be easy trying to evade the motherships, even in ehtik ..." He caught the puzzled look on Julie's face and clarified. "Confederation smuggling ships."
"How much stuff have they brought to Earth already?" Natalie asked.
Tyler threw her a surprised look. "It's not a trip to the corner drugstore." He said in a amused tone. "They haven't brought anything yet but some ships should be arriving any day now. Of course then we have to rendezvous with them and get the supplies."
"What about people?" Rico asked suddenly then looked unnerved at suddenly being the center of attention. He continued gamely. "Willie was talking about some species, scares the hell out of his people ..."
"The Taz!" Chris said suddenly and both he and Tyler started laughing. "Damn! If we could bring in a half-dozen of them, we'd have the planet clear in a month!"
"Exaggeration. With just a half-dozen, it would take at least three months. Even they have to sleep sometime." Tyler sobered, though there was still a hint of laughter in his eyes. "Unfortunately we can't bring any of the Taz here. Either officially or unofficially. Against the Rules."
"Since when have you cared about rules, Tyler?" Donovan asked curtly.
All laughter vanished from Tyler's eyes. "Since I don't fancy getting knocked into orbit by a pissed-off Deity, all of whom take way too much interest in making sure the Rules don't get broken."
Chris spoke into the ensuring silence. "That's Rules with a capital R, kids. And, no, he is not kidding. But I do feel obligated to point out that ya'll gotta remember that Ham here ain't human. And he don't think like a human. And his idea of some things ... like Deities ... ain't exactly the same as our idea of the same thing." He grinned at Tyler's sour look and the looks of relief on the others' faces.
"Spoilsport." Tyler growled. "Not that it isn't any less serious. We can't break the Rules, though we have been known to bend the little buggers until they shriek in agony. And we can work around them. Carefully work around them. If we do it cleverly enough, they'll usually overlook it."
"From what I understand." Chris cut in with a broad grin. "It helps if you get them laughing too hard to do anything."
Tyler grinned as well. "Luckily, they're easy to amuse. But we can't actually break the rules."
"What happens if you do?" Father Andrew asked.
"If I'm lucky, I just end up dead. You don't want to know what happens if I'm not that lucky." Tyler said dryly. "Where Earth is concerned, any Outriders still on the planet would have to leave and the Confederation would be barred from helping Earth in any fashion; official, unofficial, or otherwise." He looked around the room. "So it would be best if I continue to follow the Rules."
"What exactly is a Taz?" Rico asked. He blinked at the looks the others gave him. "What? I'm curious. I wanna know."
"The Taz is the Visitors' version of the ultimate bogey man. Woman. Being."
"Whatever." Chris threw in, grinning.
Tyler grinned as well. "Whatever. They're vicious little fighters and they don't like Visitors."
"Why not?" Elias asked.
Tyler hesitated and something stirred in his eyes that Julie didn't like the look of. From the look on Chris' face, he wasn't too happy either. When Tyler finally spoke, his voice was tight. "The Visitors' ancestors were instrumental in the destruction of one of the Taz's adopted home worlds."
Julie wanted to ask him to elaborate but Chris caught her eye and shook his head slightly, his eyes pleading with her to drop it. She blurted out the first thing she could think of in an attempt to keep anyone else from asking. "When can we expect a shipment from your people?"
The unsettling look faded from Tyler's eyes and he shrugged. "I had expected to hear from someone already. They must be delayed."
"And the raid on the water plant is in just a few days. I assume they're bringing things we need?"
"More like things that would be very, very helpful. I know I'd feel a whole lot better if we had them beforehand. But if we don't hear from them within a few days, we'll have to write it off."
"Damn." Donovan muttered. "Can you contact them?"
Tyler shook his head. "No. The procedure is, they contact us."
"So we wait. Again."
Tyler gave him his teeth-bared grin, something Donovan found more disturbing then usual, considering the other man's words of the night before, and looked around at the others. "Any more questions? Other then from Maxwell that is, who undoubtedly has more questions then I'm prepared to answer right now."
This brought laughter from the group and a plaintive "But you will answer them?" from Robert.
"Some. Probably most. But not tonight." He hesitated, looking down at the mug he still held. When he looked back up, his face was still expressionless but there was an underlining strain in his voice. "Folks, being able to heal like I did comes in real handy but it also comes with a price and I'm still paying for it. So if you don't mind cutting this short ...?"
Julie wondered what it took Tyler to admit such a weakness then she realized that, a month ago, he wouldn't have. "There's no reason why any other questions can't wait until after the raid on the plant. That includes questions from you, Robert."
Robert made a face at her. "I can't help it. I know we're in the middle of a war but I still want to know ... well, you know! The Visitors obviously haven't told us the truth about anything ..."
"What makes you think he will?" Natalie asked, her voice an obvious challenge.
"I don't have a reason to lie." Tyler said with obvious sincerity. "My cover's blown. No matter how this war turns out, Earth will know about my people. About the Confederation. I won't always tell you things, won't always answer every question but I won't lie."
"Lying by omission?" Natalie asked bitingly.
Tyler shrugged. "If that's what you want to call it. There are some things I can't talk about and some things I won't talk about." He glanced around the room. "Just like everyone else in this camp."
Julie reached up to rub at her eyes, wondering if it had been a mistake to include Natalie. The young woman had a powerful hate for Visitors and, despite her earlier words to Donovan, it sounded like that hate was extending to include all aliens. She tried to keep a reasonable tone. "Look, it's been a long day and I think we have had enough discussion for the time being ..."
"I think we need to know more about what he's been doing here on Earth." Natalie looked at Donovan appealingly. "You can't ignore what he's been involved in ..."
"But we knew all that before." Elias said. "If we took the time to worry about the past of every person in the Resistance, we wouldn't have many people in the Resistance." He blinked, looking down at the empty cup that had held the hangover cure-all. "Man, this stuff really works. I got all that out without my head exploding."
"And it made sense." Caleb added.
This brought another spate of laughter. Even Tyler gave a surprisingly relaxed smile and Julie found herself wondering how much of his customary macho posturing was just an act to fit his Earth persona. Maybe, just maybe, this alien Ham Tyler would be easier to get along with.
Natalie shook her head impatiently. "That's not what I meant. Mark, you had some information ..."
Mark shifted uncomfortably and cleared his throat. "Not enough info. A police buddy who used to be an MP said something about looking into the deaths of three sol ..."
The sound of a shattering mug cut him off and he looked up, freezing at the sight of naked fury in Tyler's narrowed eyes. His mouth went dry and Mark knew without a doubt that he was closer to death then he'd ever been in his life then Tyler opened his hand, letting the sharp shards, all that remained of the coffee mug, fall to the ground. Ignoring the blood dripping from his lacerated hand, he turned on his heel and walked from the saloon.
His own face more then a little pale, Chris stood, reaching for his jacket. He shot a quick look at Donovan, who blinked at the accusation in the other man's eyes and shook his head minutely. Chris studied him for a moment before following his friend out the door.
Ham stalked across the dirt-packed street, ignoring the curious looks following him as he entered the mock stable. Jerking the RV's door open, he stepped inside and collapsed into the nearest chair. His control went then and he began to shake with delayed reaction.
Chris stepped in behind him, shutting the door firmly. Tossing his jacket to one side, he grabbed the first aid kit and sat down next to his friend. "Don't be grinding those damn shards in deeper." He said quietly. "I don't want to be digging for them."
Ham blinked and looked down, realizing that he had his injured hand clenched tightly. He opened it and stared at the gashes, some with black shard chips still in them. Chris sighed and took the hand in a light grip, plucking out the shards with practiced ease.
"I don't think Donovan said anything. Bradley must have just got that little bit of info from his police contacts."
"But he will tell them." Ham said tightly and for a moment he was back in that hospital room, thinking the strange scent he had smelled was just another doctor. Not until the next day did he realized that the scent had been Donovan's. A part of him had always marveled that the newsman had never ever, over the years, used that story.
"Probably. Or did you want to explain?"
Ham gave him a black look then flinched as Chris cleaned the cuts.
"On a whole, they took everything pretty well." Chris commented.
Ham scowled. "They don't believe all of it."
"You'd be more upset if they did believe everything." He glanced up in time to see Ham smile slightly and grinned himself. "And it's going to get worse. Ya gotta admit, some things about your people are pretty fantastic. To us humans." He added hastily as he started to deftly bandage the hand. "Give them time, Ham. They're willing to listen."
"At least they're not breaking out the stakes and torches. Yet." Ham muttered. Chris' lips thinned, knowing that his friend's remark wasn't as frivolous as it sounded. Though he knew Ham's true fear wasn't of stakes and torches but of the modern-day equivalent: hidden research laboratories and secretive experiments.
Visitor territory wasn't the only place Barbarosians have been known to disappear in.
"How about some chess?" He asked abruptly.
Ham threw him an amused look. "Trying to distract me?"
"Yes." Chris said curtly and was rewarded by a broader smile.
Author Notes: I officially no longer control this
story. It apparently thinks it's all grown up and is now taking off on it's
own. Not only is it longer then I ever anticipated (I thought the raid on
but here it is part 4/5 and the raid is still 9 days away!), but it insists
on re-writing itself. And Rico is taking a bigger part of the series then I originally
Phrases: Ehtik: small foxlike animal native to Barbaros famous for its ability to evade capture and escape from impossible situations.