"Sandoval, hang on! We're going in!" screamed Kincaid. There was a deafening roar and the shuttle seemed to be shaking itself apart, and then, there was nothing...
Liam sat on the pristine beach and gazed pensively out across the shimmering blue-green ocean and thought of home. It had been fifty-seven dawnings since they'd arrived so spectacularly, and, as it turned out, so permanently on this planet.
The Jaridians had broken the truce meeting - big surprise there. Well, actually, the bigger surprise had been that Zo'or hadn't. Anyway, he and Sandoval had been flying support in one of the heavy-armed shuttles and they'd managed to hold off the Jaridians long enough for the human and Taelon delegation to get clear, but sheer strength of numbers had overwhelmed them before they could make their own escape.
They'd been literally in the process of engaging the ID drive when that last double blast had impacted against their position. It was a miracle that they hadn't been obliterated on the spot; but that was the only good news that they'd had. The energy from the blast somehow warped the energy being generated from the ID core. Their course had been a bumpy one, to say the least, and completely out of control. Liam had managed to pop them back into normal space just before the ID core gave up the ghost completely. The conventional drives had lasted long enough for him to crash the shuttle onto the - thankfully - inhabited planet that they'd found themselves near.
The planet was technologically as advanced as the Earth of the 1990s, though not anywhere near as industrially driven as their world had been. The eco-system was in a lot better condition and global warming was not an environmental catastrophe about to unfold. Much to their good fortune, the population was humanoid, and, like Liam's visit to Maiya's alternate Earth, the people spoke a variation on English. There were some definite grammatical and idiomatic differences, but Liam had listed a facility for languages on Kincaid's record and Sandoval had a CVI... they picked up the language quickly enough.
They'd been welcomed with friendly curiosity and incredible generosity, and - considering the shuttle was beyond salvage - this was a very good thing indeed. Not so good was the data that he and Sandoval had been able to put together. The guidance computer of the shuttle had been able to pinpoint their location... three galaxies away from where the truce meeting had taken place. No rescue mission - always presuming Zo'or even bothered to order one - would ever find them. They wouldn't have the first idea where to look.
He and Sandoval weren't visitors any more. They were now galactic refugees. The planetary government of Ringal had been more than willing to accept them as new citizens and they'd been offered varied choices for their new homes and new jobs; it was just... well, it was just everything. His whole outlook on life had been focused on the alien influences on his home world, be it resisting against it or protecting it. He wasn't sure if he knew how to simply be.
And then there was Sandoval...
Did they have to be enemies any more? Did the past even matter now? It was a fresh start for both of them, after all. Could they be friends? Could they be more? Would Sandoval even want that?
He was so lost in thought that he never even noticed Sandoval's presence until he said, "Penny for your thoughts, Maj-- Liam?"
Liam looked at his erstwhile boss and sometime enemy and shrugged. "Oh, I don't know, Sandoval. It's just... it's..."
"What the hell do we do now?" prompted Sandoval with a wry grin. Liam nodded wordlessly. The tentative smile on his father's face robbed him of any words he might have said. Sitting here on an alien beach with his father, Liam could not remember a time when he'd ever seen the man's face so open and relaxed.
"Have you decided what you're doing yet?" queried Liam softly. Maybe if he knew what the other man was going to do, he could get his own mind to get into gear and choose a new path for his life.
"Well," said Sandoval, looking out at the ocean with a rapt expression in his eyes, "I've been thinking about taking up the offer from their Ocean Guard. I can't honestly see myself not being in law enforcement at all. I was an FBI agent for seven years before I became a Protector... law enforcement is what I know.
"The chance to do that and to get to sail... I haven't been near a boat since we left the Cayya Islands when I was a child, but I've always loved the ocean... the vastness... the freedom. I imagine it's pretty much how you feel - felt - when piloting your shuttle."
Liam stared at his father for a long moment before smiling slowly, saying, "You know, that's about the most honest feeling I've ever heard you express."
He winced inwardly when his father's eyes darkened slightly with remembered pain. Had he pushed too far? He breathed slightly easier when he heard Sandoval say, "I've no need to watch my words now, Liam. There are no people here to betray my secrets - not that you ever would have betrayed a personal confidence back home, either."
"No," agreed Liam softly. "I wouldn't have."
"So... Liam. Have you made any plans yet?"
Liam sat still for a moment. Should he do this? He had options. Even if Sandoval didn't want to know him after they'd talked, he still had the opportunity to have a life of freedom that he'd never dared hope for. It was just... he wanted his father in that life.
"Kind of," said Liam, before the silence went on too long. "I've had some offers to learn how to fly some of their aircraft. I took a couple of the simulator rides that trainee pilots test out on a few day-- dawnings ago. Apparently I blew their grading scale to plasma."
"Like you did with the shuttles back ho-- on Earth," said Sandoval.
"Yup," said Liam with a grin.
"So?" said Sandoval.
"It sounds like fun," admitted Liam. "I had been toying with the idea of Search & Rescue; the Ocean Guard approached me about that when they saw my test scores."
"So, we could end up colleagues of a sort," said Sandoval quietly.
"If that's going to be a problem I could always--"
"I have no problem with that at all, Liam. You're a good man. You were a good Protector. It's just... I know you were more and you know I was not exactly a 'good guy'. I think the more important question would be - would you mind my presence, even if it's only in the same Enclave as you end up living in?"
"No," said Liam. "I never have," he murmured almost inaudibly... but not so quietly that Sandoval couldn't hear. Would his father take the hint?
After a long moment, Sandoval said, "Yes... I've noticed that in the past, Liam. What I've never understood is why you acted the way you did. We were not exactly friends."
"No," admitted Liam. He then turned to look fully into his father's dark eyes and said, "But we are family."
"What?" said an understandably perplexed Sandoval.
Liam tilted his head slightly to one side and smiled, very tentatively, saying, "I think Dr. Curzon described it to you as 'abnormalities that the gene sequencer couldn't identify'?"
Sandoval's eyes widened. "The blood transfusion...? You...?"
"Yes, sir," said Liam.
"I don't understand."
"It wasn't exactly anything you could have remembered, Sandoval. Temporary possession by a Kimera wipes all knowledge of that time from their host."
"Ha'gel," said Sandoval with finality.
"Yes, Sandoval. Ha'gel," said Liam quietly.
Smiling sadly as something occurred to him, Ronald Sandoval said, "And Beckett was your mother, I presume? That was the connection she felt?"
Wordlessly, Liam nodded. His mother's loss was still a huge gaping loss in his heart that he wasn't sure would ever completely heal.
Liam waited in silence for Sandoval to take the next step. He'd finally told the truth... the ball was firmly in his father's court.
The sound of the waves lapping against the beach was the only thing to break the silence. Eventually, Sandoval spoke again. With a wry grin, he said, "So then, you're my son."
Liam again nodded and then frowned as Sandoval threw back his head and began to laugh. "What's so funny?"
Gasping for breath, Sandoval gasped out, "I was just imagining the look on Zo'or's face if he'd ever found out."
Liam couldn't help but grin at the thought. The consequences of the Synod leader finding out about him would most certainly have been unpleasant; Sandoval was right, however. The moment Zo'or found out... that would have been priceless.
Eventually, Liam's mirth faded and he said, "And you're all right with this... all right with me?"
Sandoval just looked at him in exasperation. "Do I look like I'm annoyed? Surprised, definitely; annoyed, no.
"Is this why you were so hesitant about the Search & Rescue thing? I can't think of anything I'd like more than to get to know you. To work with you without double and triple-cross being the system that we have to work within.
"I may have considered you a pain in the butt on more than one occasion, but that didn't mean I didn't respect you. If you can look past my past, then I think we could at the very least be friends."
"Yes," said Liam, "but can we be family? You're not freaked out or disgusted?"
"Liam," Sandoval said patiently, "I have a Skrill bonded to my wrist and a CVI in my head. Who do you think most people would consider the freak to be?"
"Yes, well there is that..."
Three quarter-turns later, Liam 'Kinearth' had never been happier. He had quickly become master of the Search & Rescue thopters and glide-planes that were the tools his unit used to carry out their duties. His father had quickly become a senior truth-seeker in the Ocean Guard's investigation wing. Ronald Kinearth was the best and most scrupulously fair investigator that the Southern Enclave had ever had.
The Ringal Planetary Government hadn't batted an eye when they'd claimed to want their records changed to reflect the fact that they were father and son. If it was considered a little odd by some, they just presumed it was because the pair were 'not from around here'. They also agreed to - and, in fact, were delighted by - the pair's willingness to adopt the Ringal form of clan name. Most clan names were Kin-something. Usually it was a family suffix, sometimes a town. Being unique in that regard, Liam and his father had requested that their new name reflected their origin; they became Kinearths.
While they occasionally thought of the friends and colleagues left behind - not to mention the fate of their home planet - both embraced the new chance of life that they had been given. Both accepted that Sandoval's time was finite. The CVI had lasted longer than anyone had ever thought possible... burnout and death was a finality they both acknowledged. Knowing that, they lived life to the full and enjoyed the time they had together.
Liam would never ever forget the stunned surprise on his father's face when he'd handed him his - as tradition dictated - hand-carved Winter Solstice gift, saying, "This is for you, father. Happy Holidays."
Life, for now, was better than either of them had ever dared hope for. They worked together, they shared a house, the world acknowledged them as father and son... for the first time in a long time, their lives were at peace.