The sound of multiple pairs of footsteps echoed in the quiet tunnel. The underground entrance to the Washington Embassy was only ever really used when secrecy or added security was desirable.
Liam and Sandoval couldn't help but notice the furtive glances being directed at them as they walked down the tunnel. Anna's squad had shown remarkable restraint, considering the double shock they'd suffered that day. Not only had they lost their commander, but they'd also had the very core of their beliefs rocked by the revelation that Sandoval and Kincaid were father and son. No one seemed to know what to do or say.
Sandoval broke the silence first. "Liam and I are both deeply appreciative of the care you have shown for us in the performance of your duties, and we grieve with you for the loss of Anna Duncan. She will be missed.
"We also have to thank you for your reaction to Liam's announcement. We both appreciate the fact that you haven't reported anything yet. It is the truth. Astonishing as it sounds, it is the truth.
"I'm going to ask still more of you all. Will you keep silent, at least for now? Liam and I both knew this day might come. We need to talk to the Taelons. Some of them already knew the truth about us, not all, but some. It is only right that we brief them fully.
"Dependent on the will of the Synod, we may be removed from duty; we'll have to wait and see. If that is the case, then we thank you here and now for your loyalty.
"Anna's funeral still has to be arranged, and no matter what is decided, we will join you for that. We will all honour our fallen friend.
"Call the rest of your squad to the Embassy on our authorisation. After we talk to the Taelons, we'll talk to you. You've guarded us for months now. It is only right that you hear our story directly from us."
Sandoval stopped talking; they'd reached Da'an's office.
Liam and Sandoval entered the office to find Da'an, Zo'or and a pair of Volunteers. Sandoval ordered the Volunteers to leave, much to the astonishment of the Taelons.
Zo'or was just about to demand an explanation when Liam said, in a determined tone, "We need to talk."
Da'an's face betrayed a dawning awareness of what was coming. Zo'or just looked on, confused and angry.
The silence in the office lasted a stunned moment before Zo'or demanded an explanation.
Liam and Sandoval looked at each other. How to start? Finally, taking a deep breath, Liam took the plunge. "I'm sure you've been briefed on the attack carried out on us as we left the courthouse.
"Thanks to the quick reactions of Lieutenant Duncan, the assassin missed us. Her squad performed their duties in an exemplary fashion and the final Body Pure assassin was killed instantly.
"Unfortunately, he had managed to find one target. Lieutenant Duncan took the shot that was meant for one of us. The squad's medic said that the wound was mortal. Anna, knowing that she was dying, asked a question of us. Under the circumstances, there was no way that we could refuse her. We wouldn't demean our friendship in that way. So, I told her the truth. This truth has come as quite a shock to the Volunteers that were within earshot as I told her. That is why we are here now. It is only right that you both be briefed first. As your Protectors this revelation will affect you. You need to make some decisions before the Synod is informed."
Perplexed, Zo'or asked, "Informed of what?"
"That Liam is part Kimera," said Da'an, quietly.
"And that I am his father," added Sandoval.
Da'an's eyes widened at that. Sandoval shot a startled look at Liam. Liam quirked an eyebrow at him and shrugged as though to say, 'OK, so I didn't tell him everything.'
Zo'or's "What?!" seemed quite restrained under the circumstances.
Taking turns, Liam, Sandoval and Da'an told the story of Liam's life. Zo'or listened, expressionless. Liam eyed him nervously.
"I realise that you are quite probably furious. Well, no, to be honest, that's not true. I have no idea what you're feeling right now. I would like to say a few things before you make any judgments.
"Da'an never betrayed any secrets of the Taelon agenda to me. Yes, he has known what I was from the moment we met at Boone's funeral. He accepted that I meant the Taelons no harm. I saw it as my duty to take up the responsibility for protecting him since it was through Ha'gel's actions that he lost Boone as his Protector.
"One fact that I want to make perfectly clear is that Sandoval knew nothing about this when I served my first term as Da'an's Protector. I left because I found the strain of keeping my heritage hidden too great, seeing him every day and being unable to acknowledge our relationship hurt too much. So I left.
"He began to put the pieces together when I was gone. When I became trapped during the rescue in Ireland and he came to find me, that's when we talked. We knew, but we never actually said the words. Then Da'an's shuttle was attacked. My link to humanity is fairly passive, except where it concerns my father. I felt his pain and fear; that's why I came back.
"Since that point, the Volunteers - particularly Anna - have noticed a change in our relationship - we couldn't help it. Neither of us could go back to the guarded animosity of my previous tenure as Protector; we just couldn't do it. Nobody actually questioned us about this change, though. Not until Anna; and as I said previously, there was no way that we were going to lie to her.
"We are both loyal to the Taelons. If you allow it, we desire nothing more than to remain in service as Protectors. If you feel otherwise, we will understand. If there is to be punishment conferred let it be on me alone, Sandoval knew nothing about this..."
Liam was interrupted at that point - by Sandoval. The agent put a firm hand on Liam's shoulder. Presenting a united front to the Synod leader, he said, "No. What is done to my son is done to me."
Zo'or almost smiled at that. Da'an looked at the pair, approval and respect in his face.
For a long, tense moment, silence resumed its hold in the office. Then, finally, Zo'or spoke. He simply said, "I accept your explanation and your reasoning."
In an uncharacteristic display of honesty that surprised even Da'an, he added, "At that time, my outlook on humanity was such that it was probably the wisest course of action not to tell me.
"I see no reason why you both should not remain in service to the Taelons. You have never let this relationship affect your duties, which you both carry out in an exemplary fashion. I have many questions for you, Liam. I trust now that your identity is revealed you would not object to this? My most immediate concern is this: do you wish your true relationship revealed to humanity? And, if so, when would you like the announcement made?"
Astonished and delighted, Liam and Sandoval each wore relieved grins. Sandoval responded to Zo'or's questioning look.
"Thank you, Zo'or. We are both greatly relieved that you feel this way. If it is all right with you, we'd like forty-eight hours grace before any announcement is made.
"That will give us enough time to brief Lieutenant Duncan's squad first; they've earned that right. I will need to brief my superiors at the FBI, and most importantly, Liam and I both need to request permission to go to Ireland immediately. Lieutenant Beckett's family needs to be told before any public announcement is made."
Silently, Sandoval added one more group to that list, And Liam needs to tell the Resistance!
Liam also took that opportunity to say something.
"We have no objection to the Taelons making the public announcement. Our only request is that it be made after Lieutenant Duncan's funeral. Neither of us wishes that event to be marred by a media circus. Please."
Zo'or and Da'an both inclined their heads in acknowledgement of Liam's request.
Over the next forty-eight hours, Liam and Sandoval told their story several times, first of all to the FBI and to the Volunteers of Anna's squad.
One Volunteer raised the question of Liam's name and rank. Liam simply explained that he'd searched military records and found a soldier that was MIA and that had served with Boone. Smiling, he'd added that when he saw the soldier had the same first name as him, he'd decided it was fate. The Volunteers had grinned at that. Liam smiled too, for an entirely different reason; Colonel Kincaid's secret was safe.
The Resistance had been a little shocked - to put it mildly. However, as long as their secrets were kept, they raised no objections.
Most poignantly, they'd told Beckett's surviving family. The time in Ireland had been deeply emotional for them both. It had finished with a visit to Beckett's grave. Each had placed a single rose on the grave and then, kissing their fingertips and brushing them against the headstone, they'd each said what was in their heart.
Liam, with a sad whisper, had said, "I love you, mother."
Sandoval said simply, "Siobhan, thank you for my son."
The day of Anna's funeral had dawned bright and clear. Liam smiled sadly. It was fitting. Anna had brought sunshine to all their lives; it was only right that it graced the day that the Volunteers said goodbye to her.
It was a simple service, beautiful and full of fond remembrance. The media showed an interest in this funeral because the Volunteer had died to save Kincaid and Sandoval. However, they were kept strictly in the background; the Volunteers would tolerate no disrespectful behaviour at this funeral.
The cameras - even from the sidelines - did capture the images of the normally stoic Volunteers grieving openly for their colleague. It was a side to the Volunteers too often ignored in the media in favour of their more well known, feared reputation.
The headstone bore a simple inscription. Besides her name, age and date of her death, there was one simple statement: 'The sister of our hearts'.
The next day, the press corps were called to the Taelon Embassy in Washington DC for an important announcement concerning two valued Companion personnel.
The press corps entered the main audience chamber and saw Da'an, Zo'or, Agent Sandoval and Major Kincaid. Their faces were solemn and one of the older reporters felt a nervous shiver go down his spine. He'd been at this business long enough to feel it; there was something momentous in the air...
Zo'or addressed the press corps first. Standing calmly, he looked out over the huge group of media personnel and said, "It has been decided between the Synod and two of our trusted Protectors that the time has come for the truth about a truly unique and historical relationship to be publicly acknowledged.
"I'm sure that everyone recognises Agent Ronald Sandoval, my trusted aide and the person charged with overseeing the Companion Protector program. I would like to formally introduce you all to Da'an's Protector, this time with his real name and not the name used to protect his true identity.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Liam Beckett; Agent Sandoval's son..."
Meanwhile, on the Mother Ship, a Taelon hand dismissed the image of the press conference from view. Alone in his private chamber, T'than, with disgust and loathing glittering in his eyes, hissed, "Abomination!"
It had been three weeks since the historic press conference at the Taelon Embassy and Liam's life was still completely crazy. The population of the planet had been woken up to the possibility of alien-human hybrids. Even with the presence of the Taelons accepted as a fact of daily life, hybrids had been consigned to the realm of science fiction. Liam's existence had blown that safe, sheltered notion completely out of the water.
He was living proof that it was possible. Consequently, people were fascinated by him. They clamoured for information, for interviews, for any titbit of gossip and the media did its best to deliver. Unfortunately, the man who was the focus of their attention refused to comply with their incessant demands. After the initial press conference, he'd given one interview with Abby Franklin, and then refused all other requests.
A statement made by the Companions' media liaison on his behalf was simple and to the point. He'd granted Miss Franklin the interview to answer any questions that had not been covered at the press conference. He'd selected Miss Franklin for one simple reason; she had known about his heritage and kept his secret because, at the time, it had been judged that to reveal the truth might endanger his life. Now that the truth had been revealed, he felt that it was only right that she be granted the interview. She exemplified all that was good about her profession. She did not allow her pursuit of a story to harm innocent bystanders; she showed restraint and compassion. In short, he trusted her.
After that statement was made, Companion personnel refused to comment on the topic. Agent Liam Beckett was Protector to the North American Companion. If a question was asked of them that did not pertain to that role, then they didn't answer it.
It was a hassled looking Liam Beckett who entered the restaurant. He did his best to pretend not to notice the lull in conversation that happened as soon as he was recognised. Sighing, he approached the maitre d.
"Hi, I'm Liam Beckett. I'm afraid I'm running late. I had a table booked for eight pm. Has my guest arrived?"
The restaurant was one of Washington's best and normally nothing flustered its maitre d'. This man had no qualms about making Senators and Generals wait for tables. Uncharacteristically nervous, he said, "Ah yes, Maj-- I mean, Agent Beckett. Your guest arrived approximately twenty minutes ago. If you will just follow me."
Liam followed the man as he led the way to a table near the back of the restaurant. Renee Palmer sat there calmly sipping a drink as they approached. She smiled at Liam as he dropped a kiss on her cheek and mumbled an apology for being late.
There was a buzz of conversation running round the restaurant and Renee smiled, amused, as she saw the exasperation in her friend's eyes.
"Superstar status not to your liking, Liam?" she asked in a sweet tone.
Liam gave a disgusted grunt and pointed out, "You're going to get your share of attention too," giving her a cheeky grin. "I can imagine the tabloid headlines tomorrow. Doors Executive linked with the hybrid! Executive in torrid affair with alien - scan links for further details."
Renee almost choked on the sip of water that she had taken, she was laughing that hard. They met each other's eyes and laughed, the hilarity of the situation getting the better of them. In truth, a tentative new relationship was beginning to form between them. They were friends, though, and both of them were reluctant to take any steps that might do anything to change that. On the other hand, ever since Liam had returned from his self-imposed exile they had been drawn to each other. Now that he had accepted his heritage and his place in the world he was more centred. The air of quiet strength that he now exuded had drawn Renee to him. They had decided to take things slowly, see how it went.
The reason for this 'date' was actually Resistance business. Liam's new profile had its mixed blessings. Zo'or trusted him more and he was actually allowed greater access to information that was of benefit to the Resistance.
Surprisingly enough, they were finding that the number of projects that they had to try and stop were actually diminishing. Zo'or's attitudes seemed to have undergone a change. That change had started not long after Liam had returned and nobody could figure out why.
T'than's projects were the ones that were now causing concern.
Liam had information about one such project in Toronto. The Resistance had to stop it, and fast. With his new profile, and the security escort that had been assigned to him while not on Companion business, the only way he could brief Renee on such short notice was on a date. With more time, there were ways that he could circumvent his own security, but this couldn't wait. Hence the date.
Liam sat and sipped his orange juice, smiling. He'd been staying with Sandoval for the last few days, and it had gone better than he had ever dared to hope. A news crew had tried to ambush him in his apartment. They'd had the shock of their lives when a Volunteer tactical squad had come through the door instead of him. They had triggered half a dozen silent alarms when they'd broken in.
It had been the last straw as far as Sandoval had been concerned. He'd insisted that Liam stay with him while something was done about the media. Liam had been reluctant to agree at first, until he'd seen the concern in his father's eyes. Not wanting him to worry, he'd agreed.
It made life infinitely more simple for the Volunteers assigned as security for the pair; after all, they now had only one location to monitor.
For the first time too, Liam and Sandoval had the chance to interact on a reasonably normal basis. The entire father/son aspect of their relationship was still a little bit awkward. No matter how you looked at it, Liam was an adult male and he worked closely with his father. An incredibly close relationship was developing though. Liam's inherited memories notwithstanding, they shared a lot of interests.
During the evenings they had talked, relaxed, played chess and just gotten to know each other. They'd talked about Beckett, Ha'gel and what they were going to do now that Zo'or and the other Taelons knew about Liam. In the end, they were left with one simple truth. They were family and they would not allow anyone or anything to break them up.
Sandoval returned to the table and saw the smile on Liam's face. His questioning glance was just met with a silent shake of his son's head and a smile. Seeing that there was nothing amiss and that Liam was just thinking, Sandoval let the matter go.
A beep on Liam's global interrupted their companionable silence. Flicking it open, Liam said, "Zo'or, what can I do for you?"
Cautiously, Sandoval put down his fork and waited for Liam to finish his call. "Well?"
Liam shrugged. "He's got some more questions."
Sandoval's face took on a worried expression. Liam did his best to reassure him. "It's all right. Really.
"I wish you'd stop worrying about this. All he does is ask me questions. What it feels like to be a hybrid. What I know about the Kimera. My attitudes and opinions about the Taelons, the Jaridians and Humanity.
"And before you say anything, yes, I am careful. He seems to be honestly curious. If he's got another motivation behind the obvious, then he's hiding it well. I think that this time his motivations are actually genuine."
Silently, they finished breakfast.
Twenty minutes later, Liam was pulling his leather jacket on as he prepared to leave. Sandoval looked at him, concern in his face. He said, "I've got a bad feeling about today. Something is going to happen. Be careful. Please."
Sighing, Liam approached his father and for one of the few times in their peculiar relationship, he pulled him into a quick embrace.
"I promise to be careful. Don't worry so much. I'll see you later, OK? Don't forget to pick up the book."
Liam opened his global and sent the signal that let the Volunteers know that he was leaving. A new day had begun.
later that day
Liam had actually spent an enjoyable day on the Mother Ship. He had arrived to see that Da'an and Zo'or were both waiting on him. They'd had a surprise for him. They took him to a restricted area of the ship and showed him several things that he'd never in his life expected to see.
They included ancient archival images of the Kimera homeworld and several artefacts that had been retrieved from worlds that spanned the entire length of the galaxy. Artefacts that had survived, intact, over the millions of years since the eradication of the Kimera.
Reverently, he'd touched part of his past, part of his heritage. With over-bright eyes he'd muttered sincere and genuine thanks to the pair, and Zo'or had given a genuine smile in response.
His global beeped to remind him of his next appointment. Regretfully, he asked to take his leave. He offered to take Da'an back to the Embassy before his meeting with Sandoval. Da'an declined, stating that he had matters to attend to on the Mother Ship. With a final smile, the Taelon said to give Marie his greetings.
Liam grinned and nodded. Zo'or's face betrayed his confusion. Liam simply said, "A mutual friend."
He was about to take his leave when Zo'or asked to meet this Marie. Liam gave him a speculative glance, but agreed.
Thirty minutes later, the Synod leader was walking down the corridor of a Washington DC library accompanied by Liam and a squad of Volunteers. Liam led the way with a smile of anticipation on his face. They swept in to the children's department and past the public access consoles to the rear of the department. The anachronism of the paper books on the shelves caught the attention of Zo'or and the Volunteers.
On the other hand, the attention of the people in the children's area was quickly focused on the astonishing sight of the leader of the Synod attending their little story group.
Sandoval came forward, his impassive expression hiding his astonishment. He was just about to formally greet Zo'or when a small blur of motion pushed by him and leapt into Liam's arms.
Marie, now almost eight, still had no restraint when it came to greeting Liam. She worshipped the ground he walked on and had no problem about showing it.
"You came, you came, you came! I knew you would."
Laughing, Liam said, "Did you really think that I'd miss this story, sweetie?"
Marie, as only a child can, said, "I saw you on the news, Liam. I was so excited! I called Mama in and we watched you.
"I had to ask Mama what some of the words meant. She said that Agent Sand'val is your daddy."
The librarian sent an apologetic glance at Liam. His expression said not to worry. He simply said, "That's right, Marie. Sandoval is my dad."
"Cool! Who's this? Does he know Da'an?"
Liam had to bite the inside of his lip to keep from laughing at Zo'or's stunned expression. He could see his father fighting a grin and, if he was not mistaken, that was a snicker coming from one of the Volunteers.
He said, "This is my friend Zo'or. Yes, he knows Da'an. He asked to come with me to meet you. That's OK, isn't it?"
"Course it is!"
Marie untangled herself from Liam's arms and dropped to the floor. She wiggled her way in to stand between Liam and Zo'or. She reached out and placed her hands in theirs. Pulling them along, she made her way to her seat.
One of the Volunteers quickly found Zo'or a seat and then went to join the rest of their squad as they stood the strangest guard duty of their lives. Liam walked to the front of the assembled group of children and took his customary position on the pile of cushions beside Sandoval's chair.
Sandoval sat, waiting. Once all the children had settled down, he opened the book and began to read the astonishing tale of Alice in Wonderland. The children listened, enthralled. So did the Volunteers and Zo'or. This image of Sandoval was one none of them had ever expected to see.
Liam leaned back against his father's chair and smiled. This was a good day.
Story concluded, everyone was leaving the library. Liam and Sandoval stood on the steps of the library conferring with the librarian and Marie's teacher about the scheduling for the next 'story time'. Half the Volunteers remained with them as an escort. The rest had accompanied a thoughtful Zo'or back to the Mother Ship.
Marie and her friend Audrey came running up so that she could give Liam and Sandoval a final hug goodbye. Laughter filled the air until, suddenly, another sound replaced it. Gunfire.
Liam and Sandoval moved as one. Liam used his own body to shield Audrey, Sandoval did the same for Marie. The Volunteers opened fire on the attackers and as soon as they had been dealt with they gave the two Protectors the all-clear.
The librarian and teacher, shocked and horrified, rushed forward to gather Marie and Audrey back into the shelter of the library.
In a hoarse voice, Sandoval whispered, "Liam."
A sick feeling in his stomach, Liam looked at the pale face of his father. He leaped forward to catch him as he fell to his knees. Feeling something sticky, Liam lifted his hand from Sandoval's back and blanched in horror as he saw the blood.
"Medic!" He screamed.
Horrified, the Volunteers called for immediate medical assistance.
Liam sat there on the steps of the library and cradled Sandoval in his arms.
"Hang on. Do you hear me?! Just hang on."
Sandoval weakly raised his hand to rest on Liam's cheek. "Love you. Always will."
Tears in his eyes, Liam pressed his forehead to his father's. Looking into his pain-filled eyes, he said, "I love you too, Dad."
He saw a smile of joy grace his father's face as he heard his son's words before he gave a final shuddering breath and slumped, lifeless, in his son's arms.
"Dad? Dad! Oh God, please. I can't lose you too..."
Liam cradled his father's body close, weeping openly. The Volunteers formed a protective screen round him, shielding him from view. In the distance, sirens could be heard approaching. Too late. The damage was done.
The day of the funeral dawned bright and clear. It found Liam sitting curled up in Sandoval's favourite chair. He had hardly slept the night before. Every time he closed his eyes, images of the attack played over and over in his mind's eye. He recalled Sandoval's premonition of danger - if only he'd listened. No! He had to stop thinking like that. If nothing else, his father would have reamed him out for thinking things like that. All hindsight had twenty-twenty vision.
What he had to do was find the people behind the attack. It wasn't going to be easy; the Volunteers had killed all the shooters. Nobody believed that it was an isolated or random incident. There was planning behind it, and that meant that there were still people out there that wanted him dead. People that had no qualms about having innocents in the line of fire. He would find them, and they would be held accountable for his father's death.
First, though, he had to get through today. He had to get through the funeral.
Everybody from the Volunteers to the FBI had been insistent that he be relocated to the safety of the Mother Ship. The public outcry in the aftermath of the attempted assassination that had claimed the life of Sandoval had been one of horrified disbelief. There had been a huge outpouring of sympathy for the young hybrid and a demand for a swift investigation. An attack on the first alien-human hybrid could not be permitted. The guilty parties must be found and punished.
Liam had been touched by the genuine concern that had been offered by the public, but he had raised his barriers. After his initial outpouring of grief as he held his dead father in his arms, he had adopted an impassive, emotionless facade and betrayed no further emotion. Despite insistent pleas that he agree to protective custody, he held firm to the fact that he was not going to be packed off to the Mother Ship. He was not going to run from the people targeting him. Not even Da'an's requests had made him change his mind.
Once he had managed to convince the Volunteers that they couldn't get him to run, they became almost fanatically protective of him. Their mood was almost overtly dangerous and the media quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Nobody got near Liam. Nobody.
He'd sequestered himself in Sandoval's apartment and the Volunteers made sure that he was left alone. For the past two days, away from public scrutiny, Liam had tried to come to terms with what had happened. He'd wandered around the apartment dazed and mourning. His fingers had brushed over the chess pieces set out in the middle of a game, a game that would now never be finished. That first night, the sight of the breakfast dishes sitting on the drainer, waiting to be put away, had almost reduced him to tears. With trembling hands, he'd tidied away the dishes; two plates, two mugs, two juice glasses... two of everything.
Liam sighed. Scrubbing his hands over his face, he got up from the chair. He went into his room and pulled on his clothes for the funeral. The final touch to his preparations had him biting his lip to keep from crying. He had the feeling that if he started he might never stop. He'd gone out into the living room and to the table - that was where he had left it. Silently, he picked up his father's pocket watch and slipped it into his pocket. Then he'd clipped his weapon to his belt before drawing on his suit jacket. The last step was to pick up his global and signal the Volunteers that he was ready.
Moments later, he exited the apartment and came face to face with a squad of sombre-faced Volunteers. He greeted them quietly and they led the way to the limousine waiting to take him to the church for the funeral service. Liam walked to the door of the limousine. He paused, seeing the sizeable crowd of people that were being held back by police barricades. An actual physical silence had fallen as he'd emerged from the apartment building. He gave a silent nod, acknowledging the presence of the well-wishers before entering the limousine.
The service had been a simple one. As part of his living will Sandoval had left specific requests for what he wanted, and Liam had made sure that those requests were honoured. There was one addition, one that Liam hoped that his father would not have objected to. Several speakers, mostly FBI or Volunteer colleagues, had read favourite passages or poems that Sandoval had chosen. The last speaker had spoken words of their own. The last speaker was Zo'or.
"Agent Ronald Sandoval served as a bridge between our two cultures. He was one of the first of your species to be selected to work in liaison with my own.
"In the time that he spent with us he taught us many things. Ronald Sandoval was a wise and trusted advisor. He was also a devoted Protector. In the course of his duty he saved Taelon and human lives, on more than one occasion.
"Above all else, he will be remembered by the Taelons for one thing. The two loves that he held most dear: his species and his son."
Liam stood at the graveside and had to fight to hold on to his composure. Sandoval's casket lay there, flag draped, as the traditional gun salute was offered for a fallen law enforcement officer. As Taps was played and the flag was taken up and folded by the honour guard, Liam felt the gentle pressure of comforting hands on his arms from the people standing with him, Renee and Zo'or. Da'an stood to Renee's other side and the picture presented was one of two species united by grief.
Liam solemnly accepted the flag from the hands of the FBI director.
He stepped forward and laid a hand on the coffin, making one last farewell when, suddenly, a Volunteer appeared out of nowhere and shoved him to the ground. The pulse from the energy weapon missed him by inches. Pandemonium ensued.
Security personnel surrounded the mourners and the Taelons and Renee were whisked away to safety. Weapons fire could be heard in the distance. Four more Volunteers appeared at the graveside and positioned themselves round Liam like a human shield. Then, and only then, did the Volunteer that had tackled him pull him to his feet. The Volunteer held up his hand to silence Liam's questions and fingered the comm-piece in his ear.
Mood grim but triumphant, he said, "We got one alive, sir. He's in transit to FBI headquarters."
Liam reached down and picked up the bundled up flag that had landed on the ground as he'd been tackled by the Volunteer. He took one last lingering glance at the gravestone and then said, "FBI HQ it is then."
Encircled by the Volunteers, Liam made his way to a shuttle. The Volunteers had vetoed the limousine considering it unsafe. Quietly, Liam said, "Thank you all."
The attack on the funeral and the capture of the assailants had made headline news around the world. It was reminiscent of the attack a few years previous at the funeral of Commander Boone; the place where the then-Liam Kincaid had first come to public attention when he had saved Da'an.
The news reports had closed with a close-up of the gravestone. The simple inscription was forever burned into the memories of those that saw it on that fateful day. Besides Sandoval's name, date of birth and date of death, Liam had requested a simple message. 'My father and my best friend. Always in my heart.'
There was a small group of people waiting on the roof of the FBI building. They watched silently as the Taelon shuttle landed and four Volunteers leaped out. The virtual glass barrier of the shuttle was quickly closed. The four Volunteers took up positions surrounding the shuttle guarding all avenues of approach. When their visual sweep of the area had been carried out, one of the Volunteers gave a hand signal to the shuttle pilot. At that signal, the shuttle opened up and Liam emerged.
Falling into formation surrounding him, the Volunteers accompanied Liam as he walked over to the welcoming committee. The group consisted of several agents and two assistant directors. Liam listened as they informed him of the status of the prisoner. The Volunteers watched silently. They saw the particular respect Liam paid to one of these directors and noted the information for future reference. Agent Beckett obviously held him in high regard. They would treat him the same way.
One of the junior agents present said, in an overly patronising tone, "Your escort will have to remain here. We cannot allow them to come into the building openly bearing weapons."
The Volunteers didn't even twitch at the insult, though a couple eagerly awaited Agent Beckett's response. This should be good.
He didn't disappoint. "My escort was ordered by the Taelon Synod and the President, agent. I realise you may be new at your job, but I assume you are aware that this authority supercedes your own?"
The agent quickly lost the condescending look from his eyes. Liam continued, "Considering the events of this past week, the Volunteers would be remiss in their duty if they allowed you to block them from their assigned task.
"If you feel strongly about this, then you have my permission to try to remove them or to confiscate their weapons. I'm sure they will demonstrate all due restraint when teaching you the folly of that particular course of action." Liam's mild tone couldn't hide the veiled threat or his impatience with this nonsense.
The AD he had greeted with respect, AD James Kelly, quickly defused matters by dismissing the young agent from the scene, his tone heralding future 'discussions' on proper procedures. There was no further comment made about the Volunteers, and the group made its way down from the roof and to the floor where the prisoner was currently being held and questioned.
Other agents and clerical staff stood to the sides of the corridors as the group walked by. Intense glances were cast at Liam, though; the footage from the funeral was still on all the newscasts.
AD Kelly had moved up to walk beside him. The Volunteers let him through their cordon, and then re-formed around the pair. The other FBI agents were left to trail along behind.
"I am very sorry for your loss, Agent Beckett."
Liam looked at the other man and said softly, "Thank you, Director Kelly. I know this must have been a hard blow for you too. And please, call me Liam."
The older man looked a bit startled at that. Liam continued to talk as they made their way down the final corridor.
"I know who you are, sir. You recruited my father into the FBI. You taught him a lot. He was very fond of you, sir.
"I know you were his supervisor here and that you were the man he turned to when he was approached to take up a position working for the Companions. He valued your judgement and followed your advice. He told me all about you. You were one of his heroes."
AD Kelly was rendered speechless. Liam's comments had come as a surprise. They raised a few matters of concern, too. What exactly had Sandoval told his son?
Those thoughts had to be tabled, for now; they had reached the interrogation rooms. Liam and his escort were shown into a conference room. A huge monitor filled the far wall. There were concealed cameras in the actual interrogation room - old-fashioned one-way mirrors were now considered antique. The cameras monitored pulse, temperature, respiration and were an accepted part of law enforcement, evidence from similar cameras having been vital in literally thousands of court cases.
Unfortunately, this interrogation was not proceeding very well. The man had been identified using DNA scans. Jim Doyle was an ex-cop who had been drummed out of the NYPD for brutality and excessive use of force. He was not known to have any particularly radical viewpoint with regards to aliens, either for or against. It quickly became apparent that he had accepted this 'job' because the pay had been so good. He was also apparently determined to remain silent about who had contracted him and his associates - for no reason other than spite.
Liam's expression had grown more and more intense as the interrogation had gone on. The Volunteers eyed him with concern; they were getting to know his moods and they recognised that he was in a rage.
Liam slammed his palm down on the table, hard. Several of the other FBI agents present had cast startled looks at him; they had been engrossed in the interrogation and had forgotten his presence. "I want to talk to him."
Liam's statement and cold tone was met with a concerned glance by AD Kelly. "Agent Beckett, you cannot... I mean, you have no proper auth--"
Liam interrupted him and said, "I am fully aware of what I am asking. This man perpetrated an attack on me that endangered two Companions. That attack is quite possibly linked to the attack that claimed the life of Agent Sandoval, a senior Companion Protector. Either reason gives me enough cause to question him. Companion Protectors have worldwide jurisdiction when investigating incidents of crime perpetrated against Companion interests. I would be within my rights to have this man removed to the Mother Ship for questioning. I have not ordered this. Yet.
"I want to talk to the prisoner. Now."
Sighing, AD Kelly nodded his head.
twenty minutes later
Doyle broke off his conversation with his attorney and looked towards the door as he heard it open. His eyes betrayed nervousness for the first time since entering the interrogation room. He watched, warily, as the two agents that had been questioning him stood up to leave.
The newcomers took up their positions. An older agent took one seat, and two Volunteers took up positions inside the room - one guarding the door, the other stationed behind the two men seated at the opposite end of the table.
It was the fourth man, however, that captured Doyle's attention and held it. He could see the marks on the suit jacket that had been caused when the man wearing it had been tackled to the ground to save his life. Doyle looked into the glacial expression of the man he had been contracted to kill. The emotion banked in his green eyes promised a reckoning.
"Mr Doyle, I have some questions..."