Donovan sat cross-legged on the mattress in the bedroom he shared with Julie, Robert's master copy of material spread out around him. While the copies Robin had made had all the written material, this was the only one that included the sketches Tyler had done and the diagrams Robin had put together. Apparently Tyler had spent the the majority of his free time doing little else but sketching. There was even a size chart showing all the Barbarosian races, from the four-foot tall Dwarf to the nine-foot tall Giant. The other sketches varied but concentrated on the Barbarosians. There were the Avians with their leathery batlike wings, the short stoutish Dwarves, the slender pointed-eared Elves, the huge Giants, the Myr with their solid black eyes and dark skin, the human-looking Rov'r, the hairless Selkie with their crests and scaleyish skin, and the furred Treean with their prehensile tails. Each race had been painstakingly drawn out and notes written neatly in the margins.
He glanced up as Julie eased into the crowded room, grinning as he watched her stepped gingerly around him and to the only piece of furniture they allowed themselves, a small dresser.
"Have you read all this?" Donovan asked her.
"What?" She looked at the jumble of papers. "Oh that. Yeah. It's very interesting. Their evolutionary path was remarkably different then ours." She sat down next to him, reaching out to pick up a brush. With, Donovan noted, the brush in her right hand. Whatever had happened between her and Tyler up in the loft had obviously done her a lot of good. While she did still occasionally use her left hand, she no longer fretted about it. Just switched hands and continued with what she was doing. "Did you notice how each race seems to have it's own niche? The Elves leave in the forest, Treeans in the jungles. Dwarves inside mountains and Avians on mountain tops. Giants in the Arctic. Myr on top of the oceans and Selkies under them. And the Rov'r tend to stick to the plains though they seem to travel more then the other races. I think that's why they've had so few problems with each other."
"So this is all possible? I mean ... fur, tails, scales, wings?"
"I don't see why not. Most of those have appeared as mutations on Earth. If they had prospered rather then died out ... or been destroyed ... those races could exist here." She absently began to brush out her wet hair. "There's an entire family in .... I think in Mexico ...where everyone is covered with fur. There's been babies born with tails, scales, pointed ears. And dwarves and giants exist even today. As for the wings, Ham says the Avians' ancestors started out with flaps of skin from wrist to ankle suitable for gliding ... like flying squirrels ... but the need for proper hands caused them to evolve further into what they look like today. It's fascinating."
Donovan nodded absently, thumbing through the remainder of the sketches. There were the sketches of Pular Singe and Jester the Kitling. Behind them were several more sketches. A furry woman with lupine features, a horse-like creature with what appeared to be hard bone covering parts of its body, an intricately designed building with a variety of odd-looking creatures around it, a black-furred Treean crouching on the back of what appeared to be a very large alligator. He paused at one picture, thinking that Tyler had done a self-portrait but then he realized the man in the sketch was older then Tyler. Less hair as well and what he did have, along with his beard, seemed to be graying. The light-haired woman standing in the circle of his arm could only be called petite, barely coming to the man's shoulder. He was dressed in what appeared to be a uniform, she in what Donovan would call buckskin pants and shirt.
"Ham's parents." Julie said.
"That tiny little thing?" Donovan chuckled.
"That tiny little thing runs an entire planet." She grinned at Donovan's expression. "She's what's called the Prin Nivana ... the administrator for the planet Nivana." She put the brush away and reached for a hair tie, leaning back against the wall as she tied her hair back in a ponytail.
"You know, I am having a hard time believing all this. I mean, the morning of the raid, Tyler told Polly that there was a species of humanoid cat ... the Kitlings ... that ride Earth dogs. Doesn't that sound a little bit too bizarre?"
Julie reached for the sketches and flipped through them until she found the one she wanted, handing it to Donovan. He stared at the picture of a Kitling with tabby markings sitting astride what appeared to be a dalmatian. "Remember he said some varieties of Earth dogs are in demand in the Confederation? That's why. Apparently the Kitlings needed mounts and some species of Earth dogs are just perfect. Sounds bizarre but in a way it makes sense. You have to remember that it's all alien. We can't expect everything to be like we know here on Earth. That was the major problem with the Visitors. Everything they told us was said to make themselves acceptable to humans. At least Tyler's not trying to do that. I mean, Robert told me that Steven told him the Visitors are monogamous but Willie says they're not. That they can change partners every mating season. Not that they always do. And some of what Tyler's telling us are things that aren't considered acceptable on most parts of Earth. He's not trying to hide it."
"Like what?" Donovan asked with interest, glancing at the master copy.
"Well, they're not monogamous, for one thing. He used his parents as an example. Myra lives on Nivana and doesn't leave the planet but his father is an engineer on an explorer ship, gone for months, sometimes years at a time. He has at least one lover on the ship, she has her own lovers. And not all of either of their lovers are of the opposite sex. Same-sex unions are very common and not the least bit frowned upon. Fontana ... he's partnered with Ham's brother but Chim ... that's Ham's brother ... is a crew member on a Confederation war ship so they rarely see each other. So Chim has a female partner on Nivana as well as lovers on board ship. And Fontana probably has a lover in every port."
Donovan couldn't help but laugh at that. "Except here."
Donovan looked at her sharply and she shrugged. "Apparently he and Ham are now sharing more than just a bed. And it started just recently so no, he didn't lie to Robert." She added hastily. "I mean, these are things that would give a lot of people on this planet the heebie-jeebies and cause some of the more conservative people to go ... how did Robert put it? Oh, right. Go totally apeshit."
Donovan stared at her. "And is that the technical term for it?"
"I think so, yeah." Julie laughed. "But if we continue to associate with the Confederation once the Visitors are taken care of, it's something we will have to deal with. Unlike the Visitors, they will no longer pretend to be human."
"Tyler has been." Donovan pointed out.
"But that was before we knew that he was alien. Fontana hasn't been. Though apparently he has toned it down to what we consider acceptable behavior. I don't know how much longer that'll last."
Donovan looked down at the sketches thoughtfully. Julie poked at him with a finger. "What are you thinking?" She asked with an impish air.
He smiled slightly, reflecting on how much more relaxed Julie seemed now. "Just that Tyler never struck me as gay. That macho image he puts out all the time ..." He let his voice fade when he realized Julie was looking at him with an air of disappointment.
"You're thinking of him in human standards, Mike, and you can't. The concept of gay as we know it doesn't exist among his people."
Donovan flushed slightly. "I didn't mean it that way ..."
"Then what did you mean?"
Donovan opened his mouth to explain then stopped, suddenly aware that anything he said would sound bad.
"Sleeping with a man does not make Ham any less of a male." Julie said dryly. "He's still very capable of breaking any man in this camp in half without raising a sweat and quite possibly using only one hand. He can still fire a gun, use a knife, plan a raid. He still pisses standing up."
Donovan threw her a shocked look and she grinned.
"Okay, so I'm assuming he pisses standing up. You could tell that better then I could." She picked up the master copy and began to tidy it together. "Ham is sleeping with Fontana for the very simple reason that he's the only Barbarosian around and Ham hasn't had a lover in quite a while and Fontana is willing. End of story. Whether it develops into anything more is their choice."
"You've actually talked to him about that?" Donovan half-sputtered.
Julie blinked, surprised. "Not directly. I've sat in on a couple of his talks with Robert. At one time, he was using his relationship with various people, including Fontana, to explain how relationships work among the Barbarosians."
"I'm surprised he'd mention it to Robert."
Julie rolled her eyes. "There you go again, judging him by human standards. Actually, it would have been a bit hard not to guess it, considering that at the time Fontana was sitting on the floor with his head on Ham's thigh and his hand I'm not sure I want to know where." She grinned then held up the master copy. "Are you done with these?"
"Yeah. For now. Why?"
"Because Robert gets nervous when his master copy is roaming around so I thought I'd drop it off. And I want to get back to the saloon. When I left, Ham and Father Andrew were having a spirited discussion concerning religion, with Fontana tossing in a comment now and then. If you should happen to see him suddenly come flying out the window, you'll know why. The only problem will be finding out if it was Ham or Father Andrew ... or quite possibly both ... who tossed him through it."
Still grinning, Julie pulled a baseball cap onto her head and left the room, her arms full and Donovan looking after her with a frown. Pushing the door closed with his foot, he pulled the ads section of the morning paper out from where he'd ... well, not hidden it, just put it away earlier. Like many of the people in the camp, he kept a close eye on what was written in the ads of various papers, watching for any coded messages. The message he'd spotted earlier in the day wasn't in any of their codes but he'd understood the message and he wondered if anyone else had. If anyone had, they hadn't said anything.
MPD, contact EDD regarding Shaun. URGENT!
Robert could tell Ham was preoccupied but he didn't know how much so until he'd won his third game in a row. While he had been winning a decent number of games, he'd never won so many at a time.
"Is there something you want to discuss or is it something private?" He finally asked and Ham looked up, startled. He glanced over the board and to Robert's surprise, flushed slightly.
"That obvious, is it?" He said in a toneless voice.
Robert fingered a chess piece, frowning. The girls were already in bed, Chris and Alice were elsewhere and Fontana had vanished totally. That in itself said a lot.
"Are you planning on going back with Fontana?"
The surprise on Ham's face was very real and Robert almost smiled.
"Hadn't even occurred to me." He said honestly.
"But you'd like to."
A muscle twitched in the other man's face. "Yeah, I would." He looked away and Robert stopped short of asking why he didn't, sensing it was not something he was prepared to discuss.
"So if it's not that ... I'd say that it has to do with Robin going with Fontana."
Ham stared at him, obviously shocked. His eyes flicked toward the loft and then narrowed ominously.
"No one said anything. I figured it out." Robert said hurriedly, not wanting to see what would happen if the two Barbarosians ever went at it for real.
The other man sighed. "Have I been that obvious?"
"Not really. I just put the clues together." He let the chess piece dangle from his fingers. "I guess the first question is ... is it possible?"
Ham hesitated then nodded slowly. "Unknown medical situation. The alien factor makes it possible. It's not something that's ever been dealt with on Earth." He hesitated. "The line's fuzzy but I think it'll work."
"And if it doesn't?"
"Then I'll pay for it." Ham said bluntly.
Robert stared at him. "Why you?"
"I've taken responsibility for it."
Robert still couldn't quite grasp the Barbarosian concept of taking responsibility but he did understand enough to know that if what Ham was planning didn't work, he would be paying for it for a very long time. The phrase 'spend the rest of his life dead and tortured' sprang into mind for some reason. With the events in that exact order. Which meant he'd been listening to Fontana for far too long.
Ham ground out the cigarette he'd just smoked down to the filter and dug out a fresh one. His third one, Robert realized, of the night. That alone said a lot about the other man's mental state. "Fontana's ship can carry three passengers, maybe four." He continued. "Robin's been taking care of her sisters so it's possible, if you want, they can go with her."
"How long have you been planning this?"
"I got the idea when we were on our way to meet with Fontana. A lot depended on him. On whether he was willing to do it."
"And that's why you're claiming responsibility. So he'll do it."
Ham didn't answer but then Robert hadn't expected an answer.
"So where would they end up?'
"Nirvana." He said without hesitation. "The majority of my family speaks English, even if they've never come to Earth. It's also pretty close to the center of the Confederation so it's safe. Not even Diana's insane enough to go up against the Confederation, no matter what she may think of us." He paused suddenly, looking at Robert thoughtfully. "Why do I have the feeling that you've been considering this long before you figured out what I was thinking?"
Robert's lips twitched. "I was kinda wondering if it would be possible. I mean, your people have to be better equipped for this than we are."
Ham stared at him for a long moment then chuckled. "And I was worried how you would react."
"A couple months ago, I probably would have reacted differently."
Robert was surprised to see Ham shift uncomfortably. "I didn't exactly plan all of this. I mean ..." He gestured helplessly.
"I know." He moved to checkmate, grinning at Ham's startled expression. "One question though. Are Lady and Monster really on Rathorn?"
Ham looked embarrassed. "They will be by the girls get there." He mumbled and Robert laughed.
"What?" Fontana's voice demanded from on top of the RV.
"You're supposed to be hunting." Ham said.
"I was." Fontana dropped down from the RV and sat down on the ground next to Ham, cheek resting on the other's thigh.
Ham smiled, absently reaching down to lightly touch Fontana's hair. "He figured out what I was planning."
"I could have told you he would."
Ham gave him an exasperated look. "Want me to chase you up into the loft and toss you out the doors again?"
"The first part sounds fun. Can we forgo the second part?"
Ham growled softly, a startling sound to someone who hadn't heard it before. Robert just smiled. He'd been around the two men to know when they were really fighting versus play fighting. He'd also noticed that their relationship had changed ... it would have been impossible for him not to, even though they did act totally different outside of the stable. He felt oddly honored that the duo trusted him enough not to hide it.
He'd also discovered the startling fact that Barbarosians could purr.
Well, not actually a purr. More like a low rhythmic hum. He could hear it now, Fontana's response to Ham's touch. Ham had told him that it was a sound they made when they were contented or happy. Years of training and experience helped keep him from making the sometimes involuntary response but Fontana had no such training.
"Fontana." Ham chided and Robert realized that Fontana was settling more comfortably against the other man. "Others could come in."
Fontana threw him a peevish look but straightened, moving to lean back against the RV.
"If you have any questions, just ask them." Ham said to Robert. "I'll do my best to answer them."
"I probably will later." He glanced at his watch. "It's almost curfew. Maybe we should pack it up."
"Not a bad idea." Ham glanced at Fontana, who was staring thoughtfully in the distance, giving the impression he was thinking up some mischief. "Someone is getting cranky and needs to get to bed."
"I don't think cranky's the right word." Robert said, totally deadpan. Fontana laughed and Ham gave them both sharp looks.
"You behave!" He snapped at Fontana then he glared at Robert. "And you, don't encourage him! I have a hard enough time keeping him under control as it is."
Fontana said something in what Robert recognized as the Barbarosian language and Ham flushed, throwing his lover an exasperated look. Robert didn't need to understand the language to guess at what Fontana had said. Grinning, he rose, absently brushing off his jeans. "Do the Visitors know any of the Confederation languages?" He asked suddenly.
Ham looked at him in surprise. "Maybe the trade language but I doubt any of the others. Why?"
"Because it occurs to me that having us able to speak a language they can't understand would be a big help. They seem to know all the Earth languages. Do you think we could learn one?"
"Maybe." Ham frowned thoughtfully. "We do have certain languages that they couldn't possibly know. Let me think it out. We can talk about it tomorrow."
"Right. Then I'll see you two tomorrow." Robert walked from the stable and toward the trailer-dorms.
Ham watched him, shaking his head slightly. He'd had his doubts when Chris had first set up these talks with Robert but now he was glad he'd gone through with them. Not only was it helping him settle into himself but it seemed to be easing most of the tensions in the camp concerning their presence here. Granted some people avoided him and Fontana and others were openly hostile ... more about their relationship then their alien origins, he'd been amused to realize ... but most were accepting of them. He hadn't been surprised to find the children avidly curious about him and his claws, asking questions he wouldn't accept from an adult. And if some of the parents called their children sharply away from him, that was their loss and he ignored it. He'd even overheard one parent admonishing Robert for letting his girls anywhere near him and he had grinned at Robert's sharp reply.
"There's no place safer on this planet for my girls then to be with Ham." He'd said with utter conviction in his voice. "He'd die before he'd let anything happened to them."
A clawed finger poked at him. "And what are you having deep thoughts about?" Fontana asked. He was now crouched next to him, a teasing gleam in his eye.
"Friends. And friendship."
Fontana arched an eyebrow. Like Ham, he'd noticed the shift in feelings towards them. "They like you better as yourself." He said simply and the other man nodded.
"Ham Tyler can be a bit of a hard ass ... don't say it!" He barked out, suddenly realizing his wording wasn't the best where Fontana was concerned but the other man was laughing too hard to say anything. Ham felt himself flush and he scowled. Years of being totally in control and now this! "Oh for Trinity sake ... get up in the loft!"
Still laughing, Fontana made his way to the ladder and climbed up it. After a moment, Ham followed, muttering under his breath.
It was still very early the next morning when Robert walked into the saloon and the building was pretty empty. Linda McReady was there, using table space to spread out her communications equipment to work on it. Some of the equipment was obviously Visitor in origin and he paused to watch her try to put the pieces of one odd-looking component back together.
"I used to be pretty good at jigsaw puzzles." She grumbled.
"I suppose it doesn't help that someone's used it for target practice." Robert said, referring to the scorch mark on the side of one piece of equipment.
"Yeah, there is that."
Robert hesitated. "Have you asked Ham ...?" He gestured at the equipment.
"Yeah, I did but this stuff is nothing like his people's. Which made him wonder who they had stolen it from. Apparently he doesn't have a very high regard for Visitor intelligence." She said matter-of-factly. "However the Visitor language is a lot like another species' language and he's been a big help translating what's what." For the first time, Robert realized that there were strips of masking tape with English translations covering any Visitor words. "If we could get our hands on some manuals, he could translate them for us. That would be a major help."
"Great." He said relieved and Linda threw him a wry grin. While many of the people at the base accepted Ham and Fontana, or at least tolerated them, there were some people who were stridently vocal against letting the aliens take such an active role in resistance affairs. He was glad Linda wasn't one of them.
"Have you seen Julie?"
"Back in the office." Linda gestured over her shoulder.
Robert grinned at the thought of referring to the tiny back room as an 'office'. It was more a place to keep important documents and to have private discussions. As long as you didn't raise your voice, that is. He walked behind the bar and into the back area, knocking lightly on the door.
Donovan crinkled the newspaper ad absently in his pocket, watching Julie as she tried to work out how to fatten up their shrinking supply of propane fuel, needed for the running of the numerous generators powering the important parts of the base. They didn't dare try to run electricity out to the town, especially after another resistance group had been discovered and destroyed because they had tapped into nearby electricity lines.
"Too bad Tyler doesn't know some method from his people to get us power." Donovan finally said, only half-kidding.
"That would be helpful but I suspect any such method would fail under 'can't be created on Earth so can't be shared'. Even if he knew such a method. Which he probably doesn't, being a warrior rather then an engineer." Julie said absently then sighed. "We're going to have to turn off some of the generators and regulate their usage better. We keep the generators for the kitchen, laundry, bath, communications, and research areas active but all the others get shut off. We keep the one for the infirmary full and ready but won't use it unless needed. Otherwise it's back to candles and flashlights."
She set down her pen and stretched. "We've actually gotten a bit spoiled. I mean, washers and dryers here rather then risking laundromats. Hot showers. Actual flushing toilets rather then porta-potties. For morale's sake, I'm going to try and keep those things running. But everything else ..." She fell silent, frowning.
Donovan shifted, frowning as well. He wanted to talk to Julie about the message in the ad but she was so preoccupied. Maybe he should wait until after he met with his mother and knew what was going on before ...
The light knock on the door interrupted both their thoughts and they looked at the door in mixed degrees of trepidation.
"Come in." Julie called out and the door opened. Robert stepped in, looking first at Julie and then Donovan then back at Julie.
"Can I talk to you for a few minutes? Privately?"
"Sure. Come in." She gestured toward a chair. "What's up?'
"Well, something I wanted to discuss with you." Robert directed his words at Julie, a part of him wishing Donovan wasn't here. It would be so much easier if it was just Julie. "It's something I'd prefer stayed among us. It's not resistance business."
"Sure, no problem."
Robert hesitated, wondering how best to phrase this. He had a good idea of how Donovan was going to react and decided bluntness was the way to go. "Ham and I have been talking about the possibility of Robin and the girls going back with Fontana."
"You're kidding." Donovan straightened.
"Apparently Robin qualifies for medical reasons and the girls ... she takes care of them so he thinks that might work." Robert kept his eyes on Julie, who was looking thoughtful. "It's more complicated then that but that's the gist of it."
"You're not actually considering it, are you?" Donovan asked, obviously appalled.
"Yes, I am. I mean, no one on Earth has any experience with half-alien pregnancies. They've got to be better equipped for it then we are."
"She's due in a little over a month ..." Julie started.
"I know. Ham says there's a way to get back to the Confederation quick enough. He didn't explain what it was. I didn't ask."
"Why not the rest of the kids?" Donovan asked sharply.
"Fontana's ship can only take three, maybe four passengers. And apparently they can only do this once."
"Why?" Donovan demanded.
"I don't know. I didn't ask. I don't think he wants to reveal it unless absolutely necessary." Robert looked at Julie. "I need to discuss this with the girls. They may not want to do it, which makes all this a moot point."
Julie nodded her head slowly and Donovan looked at her in surprise. "You can't honestly think this is a good idea?"
"Robert's right. Ham's people have to be better equipped to deal with Robin's pregnancy then we are. If you agree, Robert, and the girls agree and Fontana agrees, I don't see a problem. I'll get all her medical records together, just in case."
"Wait a minute!" Donovan said sharply. "This is Tyler we're talking ..."
"Yeah. That's why I'm considering it." Robert interrupted firmly. "You may not trust him but I do. And the girls do. And that's what matters. Now I'd really prefer that this not get around the camp. It's a personal matter. I just thought you should know about it." He rose. "I'll be talking to the girls later. Fontana's leaving in a few days, that'll give us a chance to decide. And Mike." He looked at the other man. "I'd also prefer it if you didn't go to Ham about this. It's none of your concern and I don't want you rocking the boat." He opened the door and slipped out, leaving Donovan staring slack-jawed after him and Julie smiling slightly.
Donovan started to his feet but Julie grabbed him and yanked him back down.
"No." She said firmly. "You are not going to confront Tyler. Robert's right. It really isn't any of our concern."
"Julie, I don't know why Tyler wants Robin but it can't be for anything good ...!"
"I don't think Tyler wants Robin for any reason. I think he sees a way to help a friend and that's what he's doing, quite possibly at great risk to himself."
"Tyler doesn't have any friends!"
"Yes, he does. He has several, in case you haven't noticed."
Donovan stared at her in disbelief. "Including you?"
"I hope so, yes. Mike, believe it or not, I'm really beginning to like the guy. I didn't when I first met him but now ... he's actually a pretty nice guy when he doesn't have to be a complete hard ass. He's got a sense of humor ... a little odd sometimes but that's not too surprising. And he's got a hell of a lot of patience ... yesterday he spent a good hour showing Polly how to draw a cat's hind leg so she could draw Kitlings. Not to mention all the patience he's shown in putting up with the insults and sneers from some of the others here." She said the last bit in disgust. Apparently the confirmation that Ham and Fontana really were lovers had gotten out and the half-hearted jabs of before were turning more harsh and pointed. She suspected Fontana didn't understand most of what was being said and, while she was growing fond of the sometimes exasperating alien, she was glad he was leaving soon before he could begin to understand it.
Unnoticed by Julie, Donovan shifted uncomfortably. He had mentioned what Julie had said yesterday to a couple of people, not considering what the general reaction might be. No, that wasn't true. He'd known how some people would react, he just hadn't cared. Or maybe he did it because he knew how some people would react ... He buried that thought and focused on something else Julie had said.
"I wondered why Tyler was spending so much time with the Maxwell kids. Don't you see? He's been setting this up all along!"
"Maybe. Probably. But it doesn't matter."
"The guy's running a game, Julie. He's up to something. I know him."
"No, I don't think you do. You're judging him by what he was, what you think he was, not what he is. None of which matters. This is between him and Robert and Fontana and the girls. Period. Mike!" Her voice sharpened. "I mean it! I don't want you discussing it with anyone. Not with Ham, not with Robert, not with anyone! Promise me!"
Donovan scowled but finally, reluctantly agreed.
Robert found the three girls were he expected them to be, in the stable. Polly and Robin were sitting at a card table, Polly concentrating on drawing a Kitling, Robin transcribing even more notes. Katie was curled up in the easy chair, fast asleep.
"Where is everyone?' He asked Robin.
"Alice is out doing a supply run, Chris is on the raid with Elias and the others and Ham and Fontana are checking the perimeter."
Robert nodded. He suspected this was Ham's way of giving him privacy to speak to his kids, since the stable was one of the better places for private conversations. Pulling up a chair, he sat down at the table. "I need to talk to you two about something very important."
The two girls looked up, alarm in their eyes. "Nothing bad." He hastily assured them. "Just an offer that Ham made. He says that Fontana could take you, Robin, back to his people. And Polly and Katie as well. Whether you go or not is your choice."
The two girls looked at him uncertainly.
"Not the others?" Polly asked.
"Well, Fontana's ship is rather small. It can only take a few passengers. Three, maybe four. Now it's up to you two ... Katie's a little too young to decide. Robin, I think that Ham's people are more medically advance then we are and it might be safer for you there medically. On a whole, if half the stuff Ham's said about his mother are true, you will all definitely be safe from the Visitors."
The girls giggled. Hams' stories about his mother were almost as popular as his stories from his days as a cadet. Polly sobered first.
"You don't think there's any bad reasons he wants us to go, do you?" She asked.
"No. I don't think so. I think he sees a chance to get Robin better medical help and is taking it."
"Some of the others say bad things about him." Polly pointed out.
"Yeah, I know. But what do you think about Ham?"
"He used to scare me but he doesn't anymore. I like him. I just wish some people would stop being mean to him. And Fontana."
"Yeah. So do I."
"I think there's another reason he's setting this up." Robin said suddenly and Robert looked at her in surprise. She was idly poking at the piece of paper in front of her, her face thoughtful. "You know how he keeps trying to tell us things without actually coming out and saying them?"
Robert nodded. It was a sometimes irritating situation but he'd come to understand that there were some things Ham couldn't just come out and tell them but if they guessed at them, he could confirm it.
"Well, I think he's doing that now. He said the ship can carry three, maybe four people, right? Why did he phrase it that way?"
Robert blinked then began to grin. "To call our attention to it." He said slowly.
"Right. Well, remember when you were discussing family units? He said that if I was Barbarosian, I'd be considered an adult but here, on Earth, I'm a minor. I couldn't go off-world without an adult guardian with me. He stressed that."
"Yes, he did. And Fontana's a different species so he doesn't qualify. So that would mean ..."
"That if I went off-world, someone would have to come with me. Someone adult." Robin looked at her father and smiled. "Someone who could plead Earth's case to the Confederation."
It was almost midnight when Donovan reached the area of Griffith Park he'd directed his mother to meet him in. He could see her, by the small fountain, pacing back and forth anxiously. He made a quick survey of the area, finally convincing himself that there were no troopers laying in wait. In fact, there was no one, not even a driver for the car. Just his mother and Donovan felt his worry deepen. Whatever this was, it was very real.
He stepped quietly from the shadows. "Mother."
"Michael!" She moved to him but made no gesture of welcome. Her eyes were anxious and her worry, Donovan realized, very real.
"What's happen? What about Sean?" He asked curtly.
"Diana has him. He hasn't been harmed." She dug into the purse she carried, pulling out a photo. Donovan took it, lips tightening at the sight of Sean sitting next to Diana. "Diana has offered to return him but ..." She paused.
"But she wants something in return." Donovan said curtly, his stomach churning. He couldn't betray the Resistance but if she was willing to take him in trade for Sean, the Resistance would have time to relocate.
"Yes." Eleanor looked at him earnestly. "But it's something that could help us all, Michael." She paused, obviously trying to frame her words. "The Visitors have discovered that there is another alien species on Earth. One not nearly as benevolent as they are ..." She caught sight of her son's sneer and dropped her Visitor spokesman's persona. "All right, fine. This is what they told me. This other alien species has been infiltrating Earth for years, maybe centuries with the intention of eventually taking the planet over. Why I don't know but they've done it before, to other planets. That's why the Visitors have had to travel so far to Earth for water and food. These other aliens have prevented them from finding them anywhere else!"
"What does this have to do with Sean?"
"One of these aliens is with that resistance group you are with. During that raid on the water plant, it killed a guard in a manner distinctive to its people. Diana wants this creature."
Donovan stared at her, his mind churning. Apparently the Visitors didn't realize they knew about the Barbarosian.
"They look human but they're not." Eleanor continued. "They have apparently been passing for human for centuries. One of them is with your group, maybe even helping you in some form or another. God only knows what it really wants."
"You said it looks human? Like the Visitors look human?" Donovan asked slowly.
"No. The only outward difference is that it has claws. That's how it killed the guard. Claws, Michael!" The shudder that shook Eleanor's body was very real. "Diana said that it would wear gloves to hide the claws. The lack of fingernails as well. Is there anyone in the group that always wears gloves?"
'Not anymore.' Donovan thought. "Maybe. I'm not sure. There's a lot of people in the group. But you can't expect me to turn anyone over to the Visitors!"
"This creature isn't human!"
"Neither are the Visitors, Mother!"
"But they are the ones who have Sean!"
"But the Visitors are our friends. Remember, Mother?" Donovan said mockingly.
Eleanor stared at him, lips compressed. "They won't kill him, Michael. I've gotten Diana to promise that. But we will never see him again. They will send him back to their home world, for what purpose I can't guess at. Michael." She stepped closer. "I don't know what these other aliens want here but I believe Diana when she says that they are the reason they've had to come this far for water. There are so many planets out there! Why else would the Visitors travel so far for something so abundant throughout the universe?"
Donovan frowned. That had been one of the many questions posed by the scientists in their group.
"These other aliens have driven the Visitors to desperate measures to survive. And now they are on Earth. Have been for centuries. Infiltrating us for some reason. According to Diana, they are more animal then sentient. They hunt, kill with their claws, eat the meat raw ...!"
"The Visitors eat their food still alive." Donovan pointed out sharply and Eleanor looked at him.
"You might remember that when you think of your son." She said quietly and Donovan realized that Eleanor knew full well Diana wouldn't keep her word. "We know how to deal with the Visitors. Whatever these new aliens are, they are an unknown factor. They want Earth for their own purposes and who is to say that purpose isn't even worse then the Visitors' intentions? How long before the alien in your group starts taking over? Maybe it wants something your group has?"
'Robin!' Donovan thought suddenly and his eyes narrowed. Eleanor noticed and felt a surge of triumph.
"Diana wants to trade Sean for this alien. Find out who it is and we can make a plan to exchange it for your son."
Donovan stared at her but what he was seeing was what had been left of Tony when Diana had gotten through with him. Of Sancho when he'd rescued him from that viper pit the LA mothership was. He shook his head slowly.
"I can't. I've seen what the Visitors can do. I can't give someone over to them to be tortured ..."
"Michael! This isn't one of your comrade-in-arms or whatever you call them! This is a creature sent to this planet for purposes we can't begin to guess at! Deliberately hiding in your group, doing God knows what! Has it stepped forward and told you it's alien, offered it's people's help?"
Donovan didn't answer, remembering that they had found out about Tyler's alien origins by accident. If not for the grenade, would they have ever found out? Or would Tyler have continued to hide among them, doing whatever it was he had been doing before? And Tyler wasn't actually offering his people's help, just breadcrumbs of equipment and weapons as well as lame excuses and reasons for not providing more help. Not to mention that fact that he still hadn't told them what he was doing on Earth in the first place. What any of his people were doing here.
"I need to think on this."
Eleanor nodded. "Tomorrow night. Come out to the house." Seeing the look of alarm in her son's face, Eleanor smiled slightly. "Believe it or not, Michael, Diana want this creature far more then she wants you. Or the Resistance. The sooner we can set up this trade, the sooner we can get Sean back."
"Maybe." Donovan started back into the shadows. "Tomorrow night then."
It was almost two o'clock in the morning when he arrived back at the base, having taking a circular route to make sure he wasn't followed. The base was dark and he made his way past the sentries with a murmured password and a curt nod. At one end of the trailer-dorms he paused, glancing up at the lantern lighting the entryway with a frown. The light was flickering, obviously in need of fresh batteries.
Catching a glimpse of movement, he looked up into the loft. Dimly he could see two figures there, sitting close together, heads almost touching as they talked in low tones. Ever since that talk in the north field before the raid, the two men had made it a point to follow curfew, even though they slept much less then the humans in the camp. What they did instead Donovan didn't even want to guess at though there were times Tyler had asked Julie for permission to go night hunting, to trim down the wild dog packs or for fresh meat. She had granted permission each time.
Fontana reached up to touch Tyler lightly on the face, smiling as he drew claws gently through the other's beard. Tyler laughed, a surprisingly pleasant sound, catching Fontana's hand in his own, speaking to him almost scoldingly.
"I'm seriously thinking of setting up a water hose right about here, just so I can spray those two down with cold water every now and then." Caleb said from behind Donovan and he jumped, turning to see the older man standing behind him, a rifle propped on his hip. "Sorry. Thought you heard me."
"No, I didn't." He glanced up at the loft, surprised to see the two men were gone. "Are they always like that?"
Caleb shrugged. "Depends on who's out here. If it's someone that isn't offended by their relationship, they tend to be more open. Otherwise they go back out of sight."
Donovan glanced at the other sentry standing at the far end of the dirt street. Sancho.
"And it doesn't bother either of you?"
Caleb snorted. "We are in a battle for our lives and our planet against a bunch of damn alien lizards." He shook his head. "As long as what they're doing is between consenting adults in the privacy of their own quarters, I don't give a damn. We got worse things to worry about then who's sleeping with who." He glanced up as the lantern flickered out. "Damn." Slinging the rifle over his shoulder, he dug into a pocket for some batteries and reached for the lantern. "You better get some sleep."
"Yeah. Night." Donovan glanced up at the loft one last time before climbing into the trailer.
Donovan spent a restless night, finally falling asleep just as the base had begun to stir. When he finally woke a couple hours later, it was with a splitting headache. Julie was already gone and he dug into their supply of aspirin, taking three before getting dressed. He wanted to talk to her. No, he needed to talk to her. He climbed down from the trailer, intending to find her but he caught sight of movement in the stable and, almost against his will, went there instead, pausing outside the doors.
Of the four current occupants of the stable, only Tyler was visible. The Barbarosian was sitting at one of the long tables, working intently on something. He had his bare feet hooked around the legs of the stool and Donovan could see the tips of the claws there. He felt his skin crawl, thinking about what those claws could do. And had done.
"Something up, Gooder?" Tyler said and the other man jumped before realizing that he'd probably smelled him standing nearby. Or maybe heard him enter. Or something.
It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Tyler of his meeting with Eleanor but what came out was a weak "No. Not really." Tyler threw him an odd unreadable look then turned back to what he was working on. Donovan stepped closer to look over his shoulder.
"Throwing knives. Sancho has a knack with them so I thought I'd make a proper set for him." Tyler said, setting the one he'd been working on to one side and picking up another, sharpening it with smooth, quick motions.
"Awful small, aren't they?"
"They're made for throwing, not hand-to-hand fighting. They're based on a design created by an old friend. Cockney gentleman, name of Willie Garvin. Though I've left out the fillet of brass."
Donovan blinked, completely lost. Tyler grinned then his eyes slid past him.
"Elias. Everything set up?"
"Perfectly." Elias nodded at Donovan as he approached. "Tomorrow. One o'clock."
"Good. You're leading the raid. You know the plan?"
"Select a half-dozen people ... you know who'll you'll need. Run them through it today, head out tomorrow. And be careful!"
"Yeah. Sure. Later."
"If you see Sancho, send him over here!"
"What was that about?" Donovan asked.
"Supply raid." Tyler replied absently. "Elias has a contact that's willing to help us with supplies but can't afford to lose the money so we're setting it up to hijack the truck and blame it on a smuggling ring. We get the supplies, he gets the insurance, everybody happy."
A muscle twitched in Donovan's cheek. "Does Julie know about this?" He asked curtly.
Tyler looked at him, surprised. "Of course Parrish knows. We went through everything last night."
"Hey, Ham. Mike." Sancho appeared in the doorway. "You wanted me?"
"Yeah. I got some throwing knives for you. Small but deadly. Here, you can try them out on the target over there. If they work for you, let me know. I can make up more. Now if you two will excuse me, I gotta go talk with Father Andrew."
Donovan stared after the other man for a long moment until the sound of a knife sinking into wood caught his attention.
"Not bad." Sancho said, hefting the other knife with an air of satisfaction. "Take a little getting used to but ..." He flipped the second knife after the first, hitting the Visitor on the 'Visitors are Our Friends' poster squarely in the other eye.
"Sancho, what's your opinion of Tyler?" Donovan asked suddenly.
Sancho threw him a surprised look. "My opinion?" He shrugged, walking over to pull the knives free. "I like him a whole lot better now then when he first came into the group, that's for sure. Now that he doesn't have to make like the ultimate balls buster, he's an okay dude." He set himself and send a knife flying across the room. "He sure knows his business. That raid next month ..."
"What raid?" Donovan asked, startled.
"Food processing plant in Playa Del Mar. The Resistance there got all shot up and they haven't had a chance to reform so they asked us for help. Ham figures maybe the Visitors wouldn't expect an attack on the plant from an outside group." Sancho retrieved the knives. "I gotta go meet with Elias and the others. Later, Mike."
Donovan stared after the man, disturbed at how much was going on that he didn't know about. He glanced around the stable, debating whether he should do some exploring while he had a chance ...
A scrape of claw against metal jerked his head upwards to see Fontana sitting cross-legged on the top of the RV, watching him with hooded eyes. Donovan hesitated then nodded curtly before turning and leaving the building.
Stepping out into the main street of the camp, Donovan looked around. The sky was clouding up a little, not surprising with rain in the immediate forecast. He could see Tyler sitting on a step nearby, several of the camp's children around him. He was showing them something in a sketchbook, explaining it with quick gestures of his hand. Father Andrew was nearby, talking with Robert, stopping occasionally to listen to what Tyler was saying.
Donovan walked over to the saloon. Julie was sitting at the bar, going over a number of documents, making quick notes on the papers. She looked up at his approach, smiling.
"Hi. What's up?"
"That's what I was wondering. Why didn't you tell me about these raids?"
Her smile faded and her voice turned curt. "Probably because you weren't here. By the time you got back last night, I was already asleep."
Donovan hoped he wasn't flushing. "I was checking with some of my media contacts." He answered just at curtly then he forced himself to relax and smile. "I was just surprised to find out that two raids had been planned in such a short period of time."
"We're on a time crunch for the supply raid, it had to be set up within twenty-four hours. As for the food processing plant, Ham wants to hit it just when most of the work is done but before it goes into operation. That would cost the Visitors big. Mid-next month should be the opportune time."
A crash of thunder split the air and the couple jumped, turning to look at the sudden deluge outside. Seconds later, the doors swung open, hard enough to hit the walls, and Tyler came in, snarling alien words as he shook his hair free of water. He headed for the coffee pot, grabbing a mug along the way, still grumbling.
"I have a suspicion that those are words we don't want to repeat in polite company." Julie smiled.
"Not if the company in question can understand Prih'enshi cant, you don't." Tyler grunted, filling the mug. He glanced inquiringly at the couple but they both shook their heads and he replaced the pot. "I don't even know what half the words are. After Pular Singe recovered from my biting her tail and her actually getting across the suspension bridge, she spent several minutes screaming them at me and I'm pretty sure what she was screaming wasn't very nice."
Julie blinked. "I'm sure there's a story behind that statement but I don't think I want to know what it is."
"Smart." He walked around the bar to look at the papers Julie had been going over. "Something wrong?"
"These numbers seem awful high."
Tyler turned a sheet to look at it and grunted. "They are." He picked up a pencil and made notations in surprisingly neat handwriting. Donovan found himself staring at the Barbarosian's nailless fingers and at the claws there and tore his eyes away. "Durelle hates Visitors as much as any of us but sometimes he gets greedy. Chris is doing this weapons exchange, right?"
"You said he'd be the best person for it."
Tyler nodded. "He looks like one of them. Bad-ass biker-type. Here. This should be the final amount. Less if possible but no more. It's gouging us a little but Durelle's people are the ones taking the major risk so I think we may just want to grit our teeth and go with it. We should be able to offset the actual monetary cost by offloading any extra weapons and ammo. They're hurting for Teflon bullets and power cells. Johnny's sending more weapons and ammo with Dorothea when she comes around to get Fontana so we should be able to spare some."
"Dorothea?" Donovan asked.
"Fontana's ship. She should be on her way in the next couple of days."
"Won't the Visitors spot it?"
Tyler grinned. "Nope. No way, no how. She may act dippy at times but Doro's as smart as they come." He looked at Julie. "When's this meet taking place?"
"Couple of weeks. Durelle's waffling about setting an exact time."
"Give him a couple more days. If he hasn't confirmed by then, I'll dig him up and dance on his head. We need those explosives before the attack on the food processing plant." He took a drink of coffee and grimaced. "This stuff is getting worse."
"Complain to the person doing the shopping."
Tyler looked uncomfortable. "I can't. She scares me."
Julie looked at him in surprise.
"Hey, she's got Chris backing her up now and he knows all my secrets."
"I'll have to remember that."
Tyler threw her a dirty look. "Paul and Elias are working at getting a load of citrus for Fontana to take back as well. Which he can do if he takes the shortcut. Once we've offloaded what Johnny's sending, there'll be room."
Julie grinned. "Oranges?" She said with an impish air and Tyler chuckled.
Donovan gritted his teeth, wondering what the private joke was. "Shortcut?" He asked curtly.
Tyler hesitated. He didn't want to reveal the shortcut unless it was going to be used but he was fairly certain the Maxwells were going to take him up on his offer. Now, he guessed, was as good as time as any. "The Confederation has a method of getting from one place to another quickly in space. Wormholes can be used but where they're not available, we set up what we call jauntways. Sorta like doorways that let us go from one place ... like Earth ... to another ... like Nivana ... in minutes rather then the months or even years it would normally take. There's a jauntway located very close by. It hasn't been used in years, not since Earth's developed the ability to detect its use." He noticed the inquiring look on Julie's face. "A jauntway creates an energy surge. Nowadays, a jauntway much further away is used to get to Earth. That's the one Fontana used coming here. But the other one's still usable and Fontana can use it to get Robin back to the Confederation very quickly. Maybe three days. But the Visitors will detect it and so Fontana's going to have to collapse it behind him."
"Wouldn't it be handier just to keep it and use it for something major?" Donovan asked.
Tyler shook his head. "Can't use it coming in. The Visitors would detect it and have a major welcoming committee waiting. Now leaving, Fontana can activate it and have it ready so he can go straight through it then collapse it before the Visitors arrive. The Visitors will know there was an energy surge but probably not what it was. Frankly I can't think of a better reason to use it." He looked out at the pouring rain with a long suffering look. "Doesn't look like it's going to let up soon. Might as well make a dash for the stable."
"How's Fontana handling it?" There was genuine sympathy in Julie's voice.
"He wants to get back into space. It doesn't rain in space." He rinsed out the mug and set in the drainer to dry before heading for the door. "Later."
"Later." Julie called after him. Donovan just looked after him for a long moment.
"What was all that about?" He finally asked.
"Oranges?" Donovan gestured.
"Oh. Well, apparently oranges can't grow on other worlds. Or rather they grow but they're not edible. Ham used them to explain something. Get anything from your media contacts?"
"What? Oh. No. Nothing new. I'm meeting up with someone else tonight. Anything from Robert?"
"Nothing definite yet. I get the impression that Robin is for it ... Diana really scares her ... and Polly is very excited about the thought but they are hampered by the fact that their dad wouldn't be going with them."
"Well, Robert's needed here and he knows it and he wants to stay and fight. Besides, this gives us a chance to send someone to the Confederation to argue our case."
"Robin figured it out, believe it or not. See, there seems to be some things Ham just can't come right out and say but he hints at and if we guess right, he can confirm it. Remember Caleb figured out that, while he can't ask for help, we can ..."
'But, of course, we don't have any way to ask for help." Donovan didn't bother to hide his scorn.
"But we do now. By our standards, all the girls are minors. An adult guardian would have to go with them. For various reasons, Fontana doesn't qualified ..."
"As an adult or as a guardian?" Donovan grinned.
That brought a laugh from Julie. "Both, I think but actually it has to do with him being a different species. So, we choose someone who can explain our situation to the Confederation and maybe get help. Robert knows he's not qualified for that."
Donovan studied her for a moment. "Have you thought about going?"
Julie looked up surprised.
"If Tyler's telling the truth, you'd be safe there."
"But I'm not the person to try to convince the Confederation to help us. Besides, I'm needed here. We're thinking Father Andrew. The girls like and trust him and he is a powerful speaker. Robert ran it past Ham and even he agrees ... as long as Father Andrew keeps talk about religion to a minimum. Apparently some of Ham's people have some serious issues with the Roman Catholic church."
Donovan watched her as she shuffled through the papers. "You don't think there's a more sinister reason Tyler wants Robin sent to his people?"
Julie looked up, surprised. "Like what? Frankly I can't think of any reason they'd want any of our people, especially three minor females."
"The baby maybe?"
"Again, like what?"
Donovan didn't have an answer for that and he fell silent. There had to be a reason Tyler wanted Robin ... he just couldn't think of it right now.
"Wanna help me go over these figures?" Julie asked. "I need someone to double-check me."
"Yeah, sure." He slid onto a bar stool. "Maybe by the time we're done, the rain will have stopped." He grinned at her and she smiled back.
Ham paused just inside the stable doors, shaking his hair free of water. Chris and Alice weren't anywhere in sight and he didn't think they were in the RV. Maybe they were still in the lounge. Grabbing a couple of worn towels, he slung them over his shoulder and climbed up into the loft. Fontana was back in the little room, idly pleating and re-pleating a section of the quilt, staring thoughtfully into the distance. Ham let the towels drop and stripped off his shirt, setting it to one side to dry before sinking cross-legged to the floor.
"Something bad is going to happen." The man said abruptly and Ham felt a chill. While Fontana's family wasn't known for precognitive abilities, it wasn't totally unknown. "I can feel it. The tensions ..."
Ham sighed in relief. "Humans can be stupid about sex. I told you they don't approve of same-sex relationships."
"It's not that. It's not just that. There's other things." He let the quilt slip from his fingers and looked at his lover. "Why does Donovan hate you?"
Ham hesitated then tried to explain. "Because over the years he has concentrated on seeing only the bad things I've done. What he thinks are bad things. He never looked at the bad things those he considered the good guys did. Or at any of the good things I did." Fontana was looking confused and Ham gave up trying to explain. "It's not important. Not any more. Whether he likes it or not, we're on the same side now."
"He doesn't like it. I think he wants you to leave."
A muscle in Ham's cheek twitched. "He's out of luck there. I stay until I'm no longer needed or until Julie tells me to leave."
"Why?" Fontana asked. "Why not just come home? Many of these humans don't want you here."
"But many do." He said gently. "And they're the ones who matter." He hesitated. "My grandfather tried to explain it once, the fascination of living on Earth, among the humans ..."
"Chim said he didn't do a very good job of it."
"Yes, he did. I didn't understand it at the time and Chim still doesn't understand it because he's never been here for any length of time." He met Fontana's eyes and his lips twitched. "But you do." He said softly and Fontana looked away but not before Ham saw the confirmation in his eyes.
"Do you think," Fontana asked, resignation in his voice. "She will ever love you?"
Ham jerked back, startled then dropped his eyes, looking down at his hands and reflecting that it was close to impossible to hide anything from one of his own people, not to mention that he was badly out of practice. Humans were so much easier to fool. "Perhaps. Some day." Or perhaps not, the more practical side of himself said. He doubted an alien lover was in anyone's plans.
Clawed hands closed gently over his own. "But you love her." It wasn't a question and Ham closed his eyes, wishing ... wishing for what he didn't know. He didn't resist as Fontana pulled him into a gentle embrace and tugged the quilt around the both of them, holding him close as they listened to the rain hitting wood and tarp above them.
Almost midnight. This, Donovan reflected, was turning into a habit. He slipped onto the grounds then to the Dupres mansion. No Visitors but then fear of what they may do kept his mother and her home safe. He went in through the kitchen, moving quietly through the empty rooms until he reached the large sitting room. His mother was there, sitting on a couch, hands folded, staring at a picture of Sean sitting on the nearby piano.
Seeing the expression on his mother's face, Donovan paused. Her social mask was gone and all he saw was a grandmother's worry. After a moment, he stepped into the room and into her line of sight.
The familiar mask slipped back into place as Eleanor rose. "Well?" She asked curtly.
Donovan didn't answer, just looked around cautiously.
"There's no one else here, Michael." She stepped closer, her eyes anxious. "Did you figure out who the alien is?"
Donovan hesitated then nodded slightly. "Yeah. I think so."
Relief appeared in his mother's eyes. "Excellent! Can you get it out to the old Dupres warehouse? You know the one, down by that abandoned pier ..."
"Wait a minute, mother. I still don't like this. You're asking me to hand a living being over to the Visitors! Alien or not, he doesn't deserve that!"
"Michael! This is our only chance to get Sean back! The only chance Diana's going to give us! If you don't do this, we will lose him forever!" She paused, taking a deep breath and Donovan was surprised to see a gleam of tears in her eyes. "The Visitors are sending several of their ships back to their home world in five days. If this trade isn't made, Diana is going to make sure Sean is on one of those ships!"
Donovan stared at her, sick with horror. He had no doubt Diana would do it.
"You have to decide, Michael, and right now. They will not make this offer again." There was desperation in her voice and Donovan turned away, pacing angrily before turning to face her.
"Even if I got him there then what? He figures out what's going on and all hell's going to break loose. I know him well enough to know he isn't going to go quietly."
Eleanor picked up an alien device from a nearby table. "Steven gave me this. Here." She held it out. "What's in here will knock the alien out. Immobilize it totally. All you do is ..." She showed him how to work the device. "Apparently the effect won't last long so you have to wait until the last minute to use it. Just get it to that old warehouse I mentioned by 9:00 Sunday morning. That's three days from now, Michael. Diana will come to get it. And she'll have Sean with her."
Donovan stared at the device for a long moment before dropping it into his vest pocket. Without a word, he turned on his heel and started from the room.
"Three days, Michael! Be there!" Eleanor didn't bother to hide the very real desperation in her voice as she watched her son leave the room. She stood there, waiting until finally Steven stepped from his place of concealment in the next room. She turned to him, her features once again cool and composed. "Well, we know one thing." She said to him. At his inquiring look, she smiled slightly. "We know that the alien is male."
Steven smiled. "That will please Diana."
Miranda Jamison moved through the butler's pantry, taking her time checking over the linen, china, and silver. A tall, slim dark-skinned woman, she had worked for the Dupres for over thirty years, long before Mrs. Eleanor had married Mr. Arthur and working late hours was very common for her, especially with a party planned for tomorrow night. Was there enough wine, enough makings for appetizers, enough live mice ...?
She cut that last thought off sharply. She, like all of the staff here, made it a point not to notice the Visitors' strange eating habits. The only good thing that came from the Visitors being here was that any regrets she had ever had about not having children were long gone. An only child, long orphaned, she had no family members to worry about. But she had friends, many friends and several of those friends were actively helping the resistance in their fight against the Visitors. While she wasn't one to pick up a gun and fight, she was in a perfect position to overhear conversations and get information.
This was her favorite place to eavesdrop, the butler's pantry. No one else knew that there was an unused air vent from the sitting room into the butler's pantry, making all conversations held there clearly audible. When Mrs. Eleanor had the room redecorated after her marriage to Mr. Arthur, the decorators had simply covered the unneeded air vent with wallpaper and a well-placed table. Miranda kept the air vent in the butler's pantry covered and since she was the only one who entered this small room where the expensive linen, china, and silverware was kept, she was the only one who knew about it.
Over the past few months, since the arrival of the Visitors, she had overheard many conversations. Apparently, like many humans, the Visitors tended to see the servant class as mindless drones, unhearing and unseeing, and she had used that to her advantage, gleaning information as she could with the help of other members of the staff and passing it on to friends who were connected to the Resistance.
But this information was explosive. Was Mike really planning on betraying a member of the Resistance, trading him for his son? Granted, she had heard enough conversations between Steven and Eleanor ... and occasionally Diana ... to know that this person was as alien as the Visitors but she found it hard to believe all the bad things the Visitors were contributing to these new aliens. Besides ... how did that old saying go? Oh, right. 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend' and whatever this alien was, he was definitely an enemy of the Visitors. She'd heard the uneasy fear in many of the Visitors' voices when they spoke of these aliens, these Barbarosians.
But this was Mike, whom she'd known since he was barely into his teens. And Sean as well, who used to follow her around the house, watching her as she work. She would sing him songs and let him help her bake cookies ...
Maybe it was just a ruse on Mike's part! Yes, that must be it. He could be meaning to tell the alien what was planned. But Miranda remembered the desperation in Mike's voice and her heart sank. Maybe it wasn't a ruse. Maybe he didn't think the alien would help him get his son back. Maybe he just didn't want to take a chance. Maybe, she thought, he really meant to go through with it.
In an agony of indecision, Miranda stepped from the butler's pantry, locking the door securely behind her.
Author Notes: As you can see, a lot happens
in this part. Even more happens in the next few parts.
Other Media Mentions: Willie Garvin: Modesty Blaise's sidekick. (from the Modesty Blaise series of books and comic strips), Durelle: Bob Durelle, biker. (a character Michael Ironside plays in the two The Last Chapter mini-series)