Liam Kincaid sat in the Flat Planet Café, drinking a coffee, waiting on Renee and Sandoval and thinking about the goings on of the past few weeks.
It had been three weeks since Liam had received notification that there was going to be a custody hearing about Robbie. In those three weeks, he had come to truly appreciate the care and support offered by Sandoval and Renee. True to both his & Robbie's wishes, the news about the impending court case had been kept from the media.
That wouldn't last. Somehow, somewhere, one of the lawyers, clerks or million and one other people involved would accidentally let something slip and then all hell would break loose. The Volunteer squads assigned as security for Robbie's school had been briefed.
Fuming at the thought of anyone trying to remove their favourite teenager from Major Kincaid's care, they had apparently had some discussions of their own. The result of those discussions had both stunned and delighted Liam and Robbie. A spokesperson had approached Agent Sandoval - the Volunteers knew damn well whose side he would be on - and had stated the position of the Volunteers. To a man, they said that they would take extra off-duty shifts to guard the pair from the unwelcome advances of the media and that they would all willingly take the stand to testify on behalf of the pair if it would help keep them together.
Sandoval and Renee had both pulled out all the stops too. Nothing illegal - just thorough. Between them, they had a wide range of contacts in the business, law-enforcement and criminal worlds. Markers were called in and investigations made.
They hadn't told him anything yet about what they had found. It had been decided that his reaction to any information they found should be genuine. They had been frequently ensconced in meetings with the attorney that Sandoval had called in - an old colleague from when he had studied for his law degree - now the best 'family law' attorney in the country. Some very veiled looks and enigmatic silences fell any time he had accidentally interrupted a meeting.
Liam sighed. This had been the most stressful time of his life and he was desperately worried about Robbie. The teenager had tried to put a brave face on things but he had lost some of his zest for life. There had been a few nightmares about his past, something both he and Liam had thought he'd managed to put behind him. After rushing into Robbie's room three nights in a row to wake him from these bad dreams, he had been ready to literally tear the head off of his mother. The strength of his anger had surprised him, but, God; Robbie didn't deserve this! He'd suffered enough for three lifetimes.
There were two things he wanted to talk to Renee and his father about. One was going to infuriate them and the other, well, the other was probably going to get him a lecture for taking this long to get round to it!
Liam looked up as he heard the familiar lilt of Renee's voice. Smiling, he waved her over. A few minutes later, Sandoval arrived. When they were settled, he broke his first bombshell.
"You want to do what?!" hissed Renee.
Liam winced. He'd been expecting a response like that. He had to admit, what he was proposing was not without its risks; he thought it was the right thing to do. Sighing, he repeated the statement that had caused Renee's outburst.
"I want to tell Judge MacKenzie the truth; that I'm not Liam Kincaid."
"Are you out of your mind?!" said Renee. "You say that in open court and you not only risk losing Robbie, you're as good as painting a target on your back!"
Liam glared at her. "Give me some credit, Renee! I don't mean to blurt out the truth in court!
"I am not comfortable about testifying under oath using a false name. Not about this. It's too important to me."
Sandoval - who had remained silent up till now - interjected a question of his own.
"What exactly do you want to do, Liam?"
Liam straightened in his seat. That was the opening he had been waiting for.
"MacKenzie is noted for being a fair and impartial man. He's as neutral a person as we're likely to find today; anywhere in Washington D.C. He's supported Taelon initiatives and he's one of only a handful that's blocked Taelon projects if he felt they were against humanity's better interests. What I'm getting at is - he's fair.
"I don't intend to tell him everything, certainly not about who or what I really am. Just that I'm not Kincaid. That it was a name I was asked to assume by the Resistance."
Renee shook her head. "It'll never work, Liam." Sandoval's expression indicated that he was in agreement with Renee.
Liam sighed in exasperation and ran a hand through his hair.
"Look. I've thought this through. Liam Kincaid was a career soldier that had been a colleague of Boone's; that's why the Resistance chose his identity for my cover when I took my place as Da'an's Protector.
"The man did have a past, you know. I've forwarded you all the historical information I have about him. The lawyers may need it. Most of it is classified but if Antonia Waters and her lawyers find out about it - they may try to use it against me.
"There's no jury to consider here, it's just the judge. If he's made aware of the truth then he won't be judging me against another man's actions."
Sandoval frowned. "It's a huge risk."
Liam inclined his head in acknowledgement of that statement. "I know that. I can get archive security footage from the Resistance base where the identity was developed that proves my words.
"All I ask is that, between you, you somehow arrange a meeting between me and MacKenzie. A meeting that cannot be traced back to any of us. I don't want this to blow up in our faces when the hearing starts."
"Then why take the risk?" demanded Renee.
Liam ran a nervous finger down the side of his empty coffee mug. "Because, if Robbie and I win this custody battle I want to adopt him. I don't want us to go through this again if somebody else decides that Robbie would be better off away from us.
"I want to be honest with MacKenzie. I think it'll make things easier further on down the line."
Renee's eyes glowed with pleasure and even Sandoval grinned. She prodded at his shoulder with one finger, saying, "It's about time, Kincaid. I was beginning to wonder if you were completely dense."
Liam blushed slightly. He looked at them, eyes hopeful. "So, you'll do it?"
Reluctantly, they nodded their agreement.
Two nights later, an extremely angry Judge MacKenzie was bundled out of the back of a blacked out van and dumped in the underground garage of an anonymous, abandoned building.
Wincing, Liam stepped forward to remove the hood the judge was wearing. He spoke softly, trying to placate the furious man.
"I'm sorry, Your Honour, for the way you were brought here. It's a matter of life or death, sir. We couldn't take the chance that this meeting be observed."
"Kincaid! What the hell do you think you're doing?! This is not the way to go about convincing me that you're a better choice as guardian for the boy!"
Liam sighed. "I know that, sir. I apologise. There are things that you have to be told, sir. Things that cannot come out in court. They in no way affect my abilities to look after Robbie and he knows what I'm about to tell you; it just cannot be for public consumption.
"There are two lives on the line; mine and Liam Kincaid's."
Judge MacKenzie frowned. "What line of bull are you trying to feed me, Kincaid?"
A voice echoed from the shadows. "He's not Liam Kincaid."
A man - dressed all in black - emerged from the shadows. He carried himself in a similar manner to Liam. He walked silently forward and MacKenzie noted his tense frame and wary eyes, as well as the clearly noticeable scar running down the man's cheek.
"My name is Colonel Liam Neville Kincaid. His name is Liam, he's never told me his surname. He assumed my identity as part of his cover as a Resistance operative. I gave my permission for him to do so."
MacKenzie glanced at Liam in astonishment. "You're a Protector and a member of the Resistance?"
"Sir," drawled the Colonel, "He leads the Resistance."
Forty minutes later, Judge MacKenzie had been told enough and shown enough to believe that the pair was telling him the truth.
Liam the Protector said to him in closing, "I realise that my activities are not exactly 'normal'. This is not the first resistance movement to ever exist. For centuries, parents have been involved in underground activities against 'unfriendly regimes'. This is no different.
"My concerns for Robbie centre on past abuse and neglect and his natural unwillingness to be put into a situation for it to happen again but that's for us to prove in court. I just didn't want 'this' getting in the way; that's why I thought it was worth the risk to tell you."
Colonel Kincaid beckoned for the judge to come with him and the pair walked away for a few private words.
"I don't know his whole story," said Kincaid. "He's promised to tell me one day. I think it's going to be worth the wait.
"What I do know is this. His being 'me' has made it easier for me to do my own job and that, I'm sorry to say; you are not cleared to know about. He's a good and courageous man and devoted to the boy. I wouldn't be here otherwise.
"Give them a fair hearing in your court, that's all I ask."
Two hours later, Judge MacKenzie found himself back in his home - having been delivered to a nearby block of houses by another anonymous van - and drinking a large glass of Scotch.
Definitely not the evening he had planned!
Into the early hours of the morning, he sat and thought about the startling information he had been given. Eventually he reached a decision. It wouldn't affect his ruling in the custody case. Each side would have their day in court.
"No!" said Liam.
Matthew Henderson gave a sigh and glanced at Ron for help. Liam Kincaid had been a bit of a surprise for him - then again, so had this entire case.
He and Ron had kept track of each other in a casual fashion, as had most of his law class. Of them all, Sandoval had certainly ended up with the highest profile. They had never exactly been close, it had been a shock to get his call for assistance in a friend's custody case. He had intended to say no but it was so unusual for Ron to ask for help - about anything! It was even more unusual for him to call anyone 'friend' so easily.
His next surprise had come in the identity of that friend and the reason behind the custody battle. At first - apart from the idea of helping out an old acquaintance - the thing that had attracted him to this case was the idea of helping a Companion Protector who had become legal guardian for a street kid; not a typical occurrence at all.
In the summary of events that Sandoval had given him he'd sensed the undercurrents to the story. There was 'history' in this case. The outline of the past abuse suffered by the boy had tugged at his conscience - kids should never have to suffer and this kid had suffered more than most. Abuse by his mother, neglect by the system and salvation by the actions of an individual.
The kid was happy where he was and his guardian was devoted to him - as were a surprising number of other people - including Volunteers, Protectors, teachers, fellow students and high-powered executives. The problem was, the system didn't see stories, it saw facts. It would see a single man in a dangerous profession and balance that against a supposedly reformed mother and her new husband and ready-made home, and in this case that would be the wrong thing.
Matthew looked down at the notes contained in his global. They had a good case. The information that Ron and Ms. Palmer had uncovered was going to prove costly to the case of Antonia Waters. She had a powerful team of attorneys at her side, though. Donald Waters was a big fish in a little pond but he did have some influence with a couple of his state's tabloid news publications. They were the parties responsible for financing the mother's legal costs - no doubt they were already planning the headlines of the emotional reunion of a mother and her street-kid son. This was not about motherly love; this was about putting one over on the people that worked for the Companions and making a great deal of money in the process.
He needed the interview with the boy, Robbie. He needed the story of his life - from his own lips. The mother was going to claim that she should be judged on her reformed character and that any past 'indiscretions' be forgiven and overlooked now that she was better. That could not be allowed to happen. Robbie couldn't just say that he didn't want to live with her, he had to tell the story of what had happened and why he would never feel safe with her.
Hopefully, if they had his statement in writing, taken in the presence of a public notary, then they would not have to put him on the stand. With his mother's team of attorneys, he wasn't holding out much hope of that; they'd do whatever was necessary to win. Matthew sighed. If Robbie had to take the stand, then he wanted to know everything in advance; it was the only way that he could conceivably have a chance of protecting the boy from the vultures that would hound at him.
Liam seemed to at least listen to what Ron was saying before once again shaking his head in refusal. Ron sighed and then said, "Liam, I know all you want to do is protect him. I do understand. You do know that his mother's attorneys are going to badger him if they get him on the stand.
"All Matthew is trying to do is see that he doesn't have to testify. With luck, they will accept his sworn statements and leave him out of it. If they do insist that he testify, Matthew has to know everything that happened. He has to. It'll be the only way to protect him."
Matthew watched as Major Kincaid bowed his head. He watched as Kincaid's pain-filled eyes then rose to meet his gaze. "I'll bring him in after he finishes school tomorrow."
Matthew breathed a small sigh and nodded his head in acknowledgement.
The next day
It was five p.m. by the time a reluctant Liam Kincaid and nervous Robert Samuels arrived at the law offices where Matthew was based; Renee Palmer was with them. Her assigned task was not an easy one; she had to keep Kincaid occupied while Robbie was talking to Matthew.
Matthew's secretary called through to tell him that they had arrived. He wandered out of his office and, for the first time, saw Robert Samuels in person. His carefully scrutinising eyes made note of the scene in front of him.
The boy had his long blond hair tied back in a loose pony tail. He was wearing jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt. His stormy grey eyes were nervous and he was sticking close to Kincaid's side. Ms. Palmer murmured something to him and he gave his best effort at a smile.
Matthew sighed. Best for the boy to get this over with as fast as possible. "Hi, Robert. My name is Matthew Henderson. I'm the attorney that's going to be arguing your case in the upcoming custody battle. It's nice to finally meet you in person."
Robert looked at him warily before saying, "Hello, sir."
Matthew grinned. "Sir, makes me think that you're talking to some old guy standing behind me. Call me 'Matt'."
The boy grinned slightly and said, "I'm Robbie."
Matthew breathed a silent sigh of relief. Robbie didn't see him as the enemy. It was a start.
"Robbie, it is. Okay, just so you're perfectly clear on what's going to happen here. Liam and Renee are going to wait out here for you. You're going to come into my office to talk to me. There is another person inside - his name is Mr. Chang. He is a public notary and will officially witness everything that is said between us.
"I also have a court-sanctioned stenographer present and she is going to be typing every word that we say. There is also a camera set up to record us and this footage may be used in court as part of the hearing.
"Do you understand and accept all that?"
Robbie paled and looked at the pair accompanying him but he said, "I understand and accept, Matt. Can we just get this over with?"
Matthew waved his arm as an invitation for the boy to enter his office.
Three hours later, a pale and silent Robbie emerged from the office; Matthew Henderson following along behind. He watched expressionless as the boy headed straight for Kincaid. The Major had jumped to his feet as soon as he'd heard the office door open. His gaze assessed the boy's demeanour and his eyes shimmered to express sorrow and anguish.
In a silent gesture that expressed more than mere words ever could of the bond between them both, he opened his arms in invitation to the boy. Robbie needed no second urging; he headed like an arrow straight towards the comfort being offered, silent tears running down his cheeks; Ms. Palmer, wrapped her arms around them both. They left once the boy had regained his composure, without a word having been spoken by any of them.
Work finished, all appropriate documentation signed and sealed, Mr. Chang and the stenographer left his office. Now that the cameras were off them and their work was done, he had a look of profound anger on his face and she was wiping away a tear from the corner of her eye. They too left without saying a word.
Audrey Cavanagh frowned in confusion. At fifty-five, she was working as a secretary because she wanted something to do now that her kids had left home. She had worked for Matthew Henderson for five years. He was a good boss and a dedicated attorney. He had worked many emotional custody cases but there was something different - more intense - about this one.
Her questioning gaze unlocked the emotion that he had been repressing since the early minutes of his session with the young man called Robbie. He sat there with his head in his hands before looking up at her and saying, "God, Audrey. I can't lose this one. I can't let anyone take that boy away from his current guardian. I can't.
Audrey said, simply, "Then you won't. You're too good an attorney, too good a man. If it's that important, you'll do it. I have faith in you, all you need is the faith in yourself."
Matthew's shoulders straightened. He had work to do.
Day one of the custody hearing the heavens opened and rain fell. Robbie stood looking out of the window of Liam's apartment and wrapped his arms around his stomach, leaning till his forehead touched the cool surface of the window. A soft footfall behind him heralded Liam's approach. Neither spoke; Robbie felt Liam's hand reach out and rub a soothing pattern on his back. Sighing softly, he turned to gaze at Liam, blinking slightly as he took in his guardian's appearance. Liam was as soberly dressed as he'd ever seen him.
Liam didn't dress as flamboyantly as Augur but, even when he wore black clothes, he usually seemed to express vitality. Today, though, Liam was dressed in a simple, elegant grey suit and a brilliant white shirt - he looked 'grown up' was the only description that came to mind but that wasn't quite right. He looked good, he looked 'appropriate'; he didn't look like Liam. God. That makes absolutely no sense, Robbie. Get a grip.
"Hey, kiddo," said Liam. "You sure you're all right with the arrangements?"
Not trusting himself to speak, Robbie simply nodded.
Liam pulled him into a quick, tight hug and said, "There is a squad of Volunteers outside the building. You know the comm-codes. When you're ready to head out, call down and let them know. One of them will come up to the door.
"Do not - I repeat - do not, attempt to go anywhere without them. Your mother has leaked the story to the press and the tabloids are beginning to swarm. I don't want you getting accosted by reporters.
"The Volunteers will take you to school and they'll bring you home again. There'll be someone here when you get back, I promise. I don't know yet if it'll be Melissa or Julianne but one of them will be here. Renee and Sandoval are going to be at the court with me. I have absolutely no idea how long this is going to go on today. Matt said that today is just going to be the opening presentations from both sides but even he's convinced that your mother is going to try something.
"I'll be back as soon as I can. You call if you need anything. You hear me?"
Robbie nodded. He tried to present a brave face to Liam - little realising that his grey eyes betrayed all his worries - saying, "Good luck."
Liam gave him a strained smile, turned to pick up his global and left the apartment. He could find no words of reassurance - much as he wanted to.
Taelon Embassy, Washington D.C.
Liam was walking down the corridor when he heard Sandoval calling out his name. He turned his head and saw Sandoval and Renee hurrying along the corridor to catch up with him.
"Plans have changed, Liam," said his father. "There's a feeding frenzy on the courthouse steps. We're going in by shuttle."
Liam sighed and did an about face. Renee and Sandoval glanced at each other in concern. It was in his eyes; Liam Kincaid was getting ready to blow, maybe not today, but soon. When he eventually gave free rein to his anger things were going to get really interesting. Antonia Waters had no idea of the dangerous ground she was standing on. Liam had taken a lot in the past few weeks. The half-veiled attacks in the communiqués from Mrs. Waters' attorneys, the inaccurate stories that were beginning to appear in the tabloids... he'd let them push so far without pushing back. That was going to change.
Renee found herself anticipating the moment when Antonia Waters came face to face with Liam Kincaid in full protect the innocent mode. She'd soon realise that she'd chosen the wrong person to fight and, in Robbie, chosen absolutely the wrong person to threaten. She could have called Liam every name under the sun and he would have let her. She'd set her sights on Robbie, though, and consequently, she was going down.
That was her last thought before the shuttle took off for its destination.
Matthew Henderson had met them on the roof. Mouth set in a grim line; he'd shown them the headlines from one of the morning's tabloids. It's banner headline declared a passionate plea from Antonia Waters that she be given the opportunity to make amends to her son. The publication was anti-Taelon in nature and had devoted a huge chunk of its front page to the argument that Robert Samuels had already been targetted because his current guardian was affiliated with the Taelons. It was time to return the child to the care of a loving mother.
Renee practically choked as she read that sentence, Sandoval frowned; Liam had absolutely no expression on his face whatsoever.
Moments later, they walked into the courtroom. Silence fell. Back straight, eyes looking straight ahead, Liam made his way to his assigned place with Matt at his side.
Renee and Sandoval moved to the public seats. On the opposite side of the room, Frank Waters sat talking to some of his 'associates'. Renee looked at him and shivered. The man was a sleaze... Sandoval looked at her and gave a small, almost invisible, smile. He was in for a shock if he thought he'd managed to hide all of his activities from them. With such motivation as they'd had, they'd been very diligent. Mr. Waters would pay for his arrogance in thinking that he could help his wife perpetrate such an injustice.
Antonia Waters was a powerfully built woman. She sat there in a scarlet trouser suit and wore a self-important look on her face; her only redeeming attribute was her long blonde hair. That was obviously where Robbie had inherited his mop of irrepressible hair. She was a 'big' woman too. Liam's mind was filled with the image of this woman in a drunken rage, slapping her five year old son, making him literally fly across the room; Liam's fists clenched at his sides.
Antonia Waters looked at him directly for the first time, venom in her eyes. Liam's green eyes burned with a cold fire of his own. Unnerved, she broke eye contact first.
Minutes later, the court was called to order and Judge Andrew MacKenzie assumed his seat.
The first couple of days of the hearing had been full of emotional pleas from Antonia Waters' team of attorneys and several veiled attacks directed at Liam Kincaid. They'd called witnesses to describe the over-bearing and at times brutal behaviour of those in the employ of the Companions; how could such a guardian be in an impressionable teenage boy's best interests?!
Matt Henderson had smelled first blood; his opposite numbers were going to have to do better than that! He calmly countered every argument they offered, producing three witnesses to every one of theirs, that testified on behalf of the good that the Companions and their employees had done for their lives; everything from medical advances to stopping the Bliss epidemic to the numerous peace treaties sponsored by the Companions ending numerous conflicts around the globe.
In a mild tone, Matt said, "How can anybody that works for such beings be considered a bad influence? It is documented fact that Liam Kincaid has risked his own life - on more than one occasion - to save others and, in doing so, serve the greater good."
Next, they attacked Liam's supposed past. Things got a little stickier there. Liam Neville Kincaid had been a regular wild one. He'd been in and out of trouble with authority all through his early teens... it was documented fact. The records of a minor might be kept under seal when they reached adulthood but, if that minor were named (against a court order of the day, by the wronged owner of the local newspaper) there was not much that could be done to prevent those stories being used by an unscrupulous team of attorneys.
This would be the first of many occasions where Liam would undoubtedly have to take the stand. Under Matt's guidance, he quietly acknowledged 'his' past and took full responsibility. The team of attorneys sitting with Antonia Waters had gloating smiles on their faces. They were soon wiped away when Matt continued to question his client.
Liam, under oath, told the tale of how, after one of his friends ended up in ICU after one of his stunts - he'd done his best to change his ways.
"My late uncle had been career army. At the time of the events that have been discussed he had been retired for a couple of years; he was the only adult I had ever treated with respect. I went to him for help and he took me under his wing. I mended my ways, visited every person I had hurt and asked for forgiveness; not all granted it but he said that I needed to do it to grow as an individual.
"I rebuilt the ties with the rest of my family and knuckled under at school. By the time graduation came around, I had already decided what I wanted to do with my life; I enlisted in the army."
Judge MacKenzie listened to Liam's testimony with a neutral expression on his face. This was interesting to hear but would play no part in his deliberations; it was irrelevant to these proceedings. The Major hadn't been the rebellious teen nor was he the grown up version of the reformed teen; MacKenzie hoped that there would be no more attempts by Waters' team to use Kincaid's past against him. He'd have to give the appearance of listening but he couldn't allow it to affect his judgement. This case would be judged on the best interests of the boy, nothing else.
The next day, Antonia Waters took the stand. She was wearing a cream suit and had tied her hair back in a braid as she tried to give the impression of being a gentle and caring woman. Liam shifted in his seat and Matt placed a gently restraining hand on his arm; now was neither the time nor the place.
In a clearly rehearsed series of questions her attorneys attempted to paint her in as good a light as possible. Watching from the public gallery, Renee Palmer had to literally bite her tongue to prevent herself venting her disgust when, Mrs. Waters turned to gaze at Judge MacKenzie with teary eyes and trembling lips, saying, "I am so sorry for the way I treated Robert in the past..."
Under his breath, sitting beside Matt, Liam said, "He prefers Robbie. If you'd taken any interest in him at all, you'd know that!"
Matt filed that away for future reference and re-focused his attention on - as one of his clerks had put it - 'the mother from Hell'.
Antonia Waters continued her tale of woe, painting herself as a victim as much as her son had been.
"I know I did terrible things at that time. Robert's father had left before he was born; my latest boyfriend had left me after calling me 'a washed up hag'. That hurt me terribly. I turned to drinking... I know now that it was wrong but then, it seemed like the perfect solution.
"I've blocked much of what happened from my memory but that's all in the past now. I haven't touched a drop of alcohol in years and my therapist says that my insecurities are much more under control. I'd like the chance to prove to myself, and to Robert, that I can be the mother that he needs.
"My husband and I are partners in business and own a chain of retail outlets throughout southern California. We are well respected in our local community and we have a large house with spacious grounds and an indoor pool. Robert would do well there. He could learn to put the past behind us and move on. After all, how much can he really remember what I was like at the time?"
Matt Henderson gave an astounded look at the oblivious woman; even her attorneys winced at that statement. Was the woman really that self-centred?
Mentally rubbing his hands together with glee, he rose to cross-examine 'the mother from Hell'. Before he had the opportunity to speak, there was the strident sound of two globals simultaneously signalling a message. Faces apologetic, Liam Kincaid and Ronald Sandoval answered their calls.
Sandoval frowned and immediately began giving a stream of orders before he turned and spoke softly to Renee Palmer; Kincaid meanwhile, had gone about three shades paler. Not even stopping to offer an explanation, he vaulted over the barrier separating the involved parties from the public gallery and practically sprinted towards the exit, Sandoval close on his heels.
Judge MacKenzie was frowning furiously, Antonia Waters was understandably perplexed and Matt Henderson completely bewildered. Renee walked to the edge of the barrier and beckoned to Matt. Face pale, she whispered something to him; his response of "Jesus!" rang out in the court.
"Your Honour, I ask that this hearing be put into emergency recess. A team was apparently following the vehicle transporting Robert Samuels home from his school; the team was from one of the media networks covering this case. There was some sort of accident - details are sketchy - Robert has been taken to Washington General Hospital with a suspected broken leg.
Horrified silence filled the air. It was clear that the media were going to have to be rebuked and restrained somehow; their attitude covering this case had started lamentably bad and simply got worse.
"Recess granted. This court will re-convene in forty-eight hours."
The sound of multiple pairs of approaching footsteps caused the nurse on duty to look up from the station where she was busily updating patient records. Her eyes widened at the sight that greeted her. Two very different but extremely good-looking men were striding purposefully down the corridor with what looked like about ten Volunteers in their distinctive black uniforms.
The taller of the two men addressed her in a demanding tone, saying, "Robbie Samuels... where is he? How is he? What happened? Who is the doctor that is treating him?"
She opened her mouth to try and answer when the man burst forth with more insistent questions. "Where are the Volunteers that were accompanying the boy? What about the media team that caused the accident? Did any of them require treatment?"
A firm hand placed on his arm by the other man succeeded in calming him somewhat. The man said, "Liam, let the poor woman get a word in edgeways and you might get some answers."
The man addressed her directly, saying, "My apologies, ma'am. I am Agent Ronald Sandoval and this is my colleague Major Liam Kincaid. The major is the legal guardian of Robert Samuels. We were notified that he and the team of Volunteers assigned to look after him were in an accident caused during a high-speed chase with some media personnel.
"Liam is understandably extremely concerned about how Robbie is doing and we'd appreciate any information you can give us." Sandoval smiled at the nurse using his most persuasively charming tone - the one that he normally used when he was trying to wheedle information out of reluctant sources.
Lauren Atkinson's eyes widened in recognition as she finally realised who these people were; Companion Protectors, the morning newspaper had mentioned the custody case currently being held... so that was the reason for the furore earlier when the teenager had been brought in!
Lauren looked into the worried eyes of Major Liam Kincaid and felt her middle-aged heart melt at what she saw there. Love, worry, rage... He clearly cared deeply about the boy. A stray thought crossed her mind just then, I hope he gets to keep custody of the boy.
She smiled reassuringly at the younger man and said, "Robbie is doing as well as can be expected, major. I was there when he was brought in. He was lucky, they all were. The vehicle that they were travelling was designed with safety in mind.
"His right leg is broken, I'm afraid; it's a clean break though and he's young and healthy. He'll be up and around before you know it.
"Most of the Volunteers came through pretty much unscathed although one has suffered a concussion and another has several fractured ribs. The media personnel involved in the incident did not get off so easily. There were several fractured bones and one of them was trapped in the wreckage of their vehicle for almost thirty minutes; he has a suspected broken neck, the specialists are seeing him now.
"The police have already arrived and as soon as the doctors give the word, they're going to be arresting those of the personnel fit to be released."
Lauren watched as some of the tension eased out of Major Kincaid's shoulders. She briefly consulted the computer console in front of her. She looked up into his eyes again and said, "He's in Room 426, you can go see him if you want. There is a police officer stationed outside his door; the Volunteers insisted on that before agreeing to treatment. They said that no one except medical personnel was to enter until their superiors arrived. I presume that means you."
Lauren watched curiously as the Major turned to look at Agent Sandoval. The agent gave him a gentle push saying, "Go, Liam. I'll make the necessary arrangements and come find you both, and Liam, give him a hug for me, will you?"
Needing no further urging, the major nodded and smiled slightly before heading off. Lauren returned her attention to her work - or at least tried to. She found herself listening curiously to the orders from Agent Sandoval that sent Volunteers scurrying in all directions.
"I want two squads on rotation in the hospital within the next ten minutes. All entrances and exits are to be covered. No, I repeat, NO media personnel are to be allowed on this floor. Is that clear?
"I want a shuttle and pilot on standby on the roof. Keep it out of the way of any emergency medical helicopters but get it there.
The agent then flicked open a state-of-the-art global and said, "Patch me through to the mothership. I need to speak to Zo'or."
Lauren's eyes widened and she quickly ducked her head down enforcing the fiction that she was working but, in all honesty, her attention was riveted to the goings on around her. This day was quickly becoming the most interesting day of her nursing career.
"Yes, Agent Sandoval. What is it?" asked a melodic alien voice.
"I presume that you have been notified of the incident today regarding Robert Samuels and the Volunteer squad assigned to protect him?"
"Indeed. I take it that I can assume that those responsible for the accident are being dealt with by the human authorities?"
Smiling grimly, Sandoval said, "I'm going to see to it personally, Zo'or."
Surprising him slightly, Zo'or's voice turned hesitant as he asked, "How is the young man?"
"Robbie suffered a broken leg but he will recover in due course. Actually, Robbie is the reason I asked to speak to you."
"How so, Agent Sandoval?"
Sandoval sighed and said; "The major and I discussed this latest incident on the way to the hospital. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the media are getting out of control. There are going to be repercussions about this incident, of that we have no doubt. The American public will not take kindly to the press harassment that is being visited on a teenage boy that has done nothing wrong."
"Why then did you wish to speak to me?"
"Until the resolution of this custody battle - whatever it might be - the major and I both agree that Robbie needs to feel safe. Right now, the most secure place that we can think of is the mothership. We'd like your permission to assign Robbie and the major quarters in the Volunteer wing of the ship until this is over. It's the one place that the media cannot get to."
For several seconds there was silence and then Zo'or said, "You have my permission. Make the necessary arrangements."
"Thank you, Zo'or."
After showing his ID to the cop at the door, Liam quietly entered Robbie's private room. Robbie was lying sprawled on the bed, right leg encased in a micro-mesh cast of light weight fabric; it was one of the developments of the Doors Co-Ventures projects that Liam had no objections to; medical advances were a benefit to all.
His head turned to the sound of the door opening and his grey eyes lit up with a tired joy as he saw whom his visitor was. "Liam!"
Eyes mirroring his concern, Liam made to the side of the hospital bed, hand reaching out to hover just above the cast, "I'm so sorry, Robbie. I should have found another way... I should have..."
Robbie reached out and tugged at Liam's arm pulling him to sit on the side of the bed. Gingerly, he pulled himself into a sitting position and looked into Liam's self-condemning eyes.
Firmly, he said, "This was not your fault, Liam. There's nothing more you could have done to ensure my safety. I know that. Who knew that those crazy reporters would try something so stupid?!"
Liam closed his eyes briefly, amazed once again at Robbie's resilience, his determination to remain positive; little realising that it was his constant care and understanding that had given the boy the courage to face life head on and no longer hide from it.
He pulled the boy into a gentle hug, saying, "That's from Sandoval." He loosed his grip and pulled back for just a moment, before pulling him into a second hug, saying, "This is from me. I'm so glad that you're all right."
Robbie held on tightly, the reassurance in the strong arms of Liam something that he would never, could never get enough of.
A quiet knock disturbed them, Robbie looked over to the door as it opened but didn't break the hug; it was Agent Sandoval.
"Hi, Robbie. How are you feeling?"
"I'll be fine, Ron."
Sandoval grinned at him and winked, secretly delighted. There had been no hesitancy in Robbie calling him 'Ron' and not 'Mr. Sandoval.'
Liam broke the hug and looked at his father with a questioning gaze. Sandoval nodded and Liam relaxed slightly. He looked at Robbie and said, "Uh, Robbie. We have something to tell you."
Robbie's eyes grew nervous. In a scared tone he said, "It's not about the custody case, is it?"
The worry in his voice pierced through the hearts of both the men in the room. They had to win. Robbie'd never recover if they didn't.
Voice husky with pent up emotion, Liam said, "No, Robbie. There's a long way to go with that yet. This is about your safety."
Robbie relaxed slightly but had a fairly perturbed expression on his face. There were Volunteers watching both Liam and himself round the clock. What more could realistically be done? His eyes widened in astonishment when Sandoval told him what the new plans were.
"You're being taken out of school till this is over, Robbie. The school is going to provide us with your schoolwork and tutors are being arranged.
"You and Liam are both relocating to the mothership until this is over. It's the easiest way to ensure your safety and keep the media out of reach."
Voice astounded, eyes wide, Robbie said, "I'm going to live on the mothership?!"
Liam and Sandoval exchanged a quiet grin. Looked like he wasn't going to be too upset about being pulled out of his school after all.
Two days later, Liam Kincaid and Ronald Sandoval were back in the courtroom of Judge Andrew MacKenzie. Sandoval nodded a greeting to Renee Palmer as he slipped into what had become his customary seat when he had the time to attend the hearings.
His gaze moved forward to where the action was about to start. Antonia Waters was back on the stand and Matt Henderson was about to start his questioning. This was where things were going to start to get 'interesting'.
"Mrs. Waters, I'll try to keep this brief," said Matt with a small smile.
Ronald Sandoval saw the smile and straightened up in his seat, anticipation running through him. He recognised that smile. In the past it had usually preceded Matt verbally tearing strips off of recalcitrant witnesses.
"I'm sure, as you said previously, that you have indeed tried hard to block all memory of your previous behaviour towards your son. Understandable. Unfortunately, I'm going to have to ask you some questions about that time."
Matt smiled at her again and said, "We're trying to establish what is best for the child so I know that you'll co-operate fully." Antonia Waters suddenly felt like a deer caught in headlights as she realised that this smiling, friendly lawyer was like a lion waiting to pounce.
Swallowing nervously, she said, "Of course, Mr. Henderson. I just want what's best for Robert."
"Of course you do," murmured Matt in a softly patronising tone. "I'll just run through some basic facts first that I'd like you to confirm for the court.
"You left school and married your high school sweetheart, John Samuels. He worked in an engineering firm but was laid off during a slump in business. You were reluctant to give up the lifestyle that you had become accustomed to and your husband ended up working two jobs to support your spending habits.
"He managed to support you both this way for a couple of years but then you fell pregnant. You refused to curb your spending and save for the added expenditure that a child was going to bring to your lives. Is that correct?"
Antonia Waters couldn't meet his eyes as she reluctantly said, "I suppose so."
Matt arched an eyebrow. "You suppose so. I see.
"Your husband had by this time made his way through several low paying jobs and started to drink heavily. He became acquainted with several less than savoury characters and in a desperate attempt to get enough money to satisfy your demands and prepare for the child's arrival he took part in an armed robbery of a local Savings & Loan.
"He and his fellow robbers were killed in a shoot out with the police. Correct?"
Renee and Sandoval watched Liam anxiously; they saw his shoulders stiffen as his body tensed in shock. This was the tactic that had caused them concern but Matt had been insistent; his reactions had to be genuine. Antonia Waters muttered her confirmation of the facts and Matt pressed on.
"Robbie was born how soon after that?"
"You returned home to stay with your parents and raise the baby but, when he was two years old, you had a falling out with them when they accused you of stealing money from them. You left and against their wishes, took the child with you.
"You worked several low paying jobs to support yourself and Robbie and began seeing someone. The man left you when Robbie was four, saying - and I quote you here - that you were, 'a washed up hag'. When he left, you started drinking. According to the sworn testimony offered by your son it was not long after that that you started taking out your frustrations at your life on him.
"In your previous testimony you said that it was probable that he didn't remember much of that time and like you probably wanted to forget it ever happened.
"It would appear that that has been a little more difficult for him. He has given detailed accounts of how, when he was five years old, you slapped him so hard that he rebounded off of one of the walls in your apartment; as well as many similar incidents. He also vividly described for me the last time you so abused him; he was nine, you were in a drunken rage. You threw a vodka bottle at him. It missed him and hit the wall, shattering. One of those pieces of glass gouged a scar on his arm that he carries to this day. It matches the many scars that you put on his heart.
"That doesn't sound like he's forgotten much about that time, does it?" rebuked Matt.
Face pale, Antonia Waters looked straight ahead and hissed, "No, it doesn't."
"Robbie's fourteen now. Let's discuss what you've done in the past five years that makes you think that you're now qualified to take care of your son."
Matt's tone did not bode well.
There was absolute silence in the courtroom as Matt paced back and forth in front of the witness box. He stopped, turned, approached the witness box and placed one hand on the wooden front of the box. "Tell me, please, what makes you think that you're best qualified to look after Robbie?"
Antonia Waters glared across the courtroom to the seated form of Liam Kincaid and said, "I'm his mother." She crossed her arms across her chest, her posture screaming that, as far as she was concerned, that was that.
Matt arched an eyebrow, murmuring, "I'll bear that in mind." He turned, walking back towards Liam, but, about half way there, he turned back to look at her again. Simply, quietly, he said, "Tell me about your time in New York."
In the public gallery Sandoval and Renee shared a predatory grin as Antonia Waters gasped in horror. Judge MacKenzie looked on in interest, her attorneys looked absolutely bewildered.
In a wavering tone, she said, "I don't know what you mean."
"Oh come now, Mrs. Waters, I find that highly doubtful. You went to a great deal of trouble to suppress all the records of the incident; that alone would seem to indicate that you know very well what I'm talking about."
Matt gazed at her, contempt clearly visible in his eyes. She gazed back at him, face pale, lips compressed but she remained silent.
Matt turned to address the judge. "Your Honour, the records that have been unearthed by my investigators shows many reasons why Mrs. Waters is not fit to have custody of her son.
"I am fully prepared to present these records to the court and defend my allegations as necessary. Mrs. Waters should not be allowed to act as legal guardian to any child. It is absolutely not in the best interests of the child."
"That's absolutely unfair!" hissed the woman.
"Unfair? Unfair?!" shouted Matt. The entire courtroom held it's breath at the sight of the usually calm and unflappable Matt Henderson literally fuming.
"Three years ago in New York, were you or were you not arrested for physical abuse of a minor left in your care?"
"No charges were ever filed!"
Matt drew in a deep, shaking breath as he tried to regain control of his emotions. "The only reason there were no charges filed was because the mother was too scared to do so. Your then boyfriend threatened both her and her still traumatised daughter if they pressed the matter any further.
"The police tried to get her to reconsider, but she was young and scared; she refused. Jillian Todd still remembers you, though. Even after moving back to stay with her parents and raise her child as far away as possible from New York and the bad memories that it held, she still remembers you.
"She has stated quite categorically that she is ready and willing to take the stand and tell the world what you did to her and her daughter. Her daughter, Jenna, remembers you too. Jenna was only four at the time, but she still remembers you. She always will. The injuries that she suffered when you pushed her down those stairs have confined her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
"Jillian Todd has always regretted that she didn't stand up to your threats then. It's understandable. She was young, scared and had a traumatised child to protect. She will not let you harm another."
Matt broke eye contact with her and began to pace about again. The rest of his questioning was a little less dramatic but no less shocking in its revelations. Apparently, Antonia Waters wasn't as 'sober' as she claimed. She had been in and out of rehab on three separate occasions in the last two years.
Her husband wasn't an angel either, not by a long shot. His company was under investigation. Allegations of corruption and extortion were being investigated.
By the time Matt was done, the woman had had her entire life picked apart on the stand; it was not a life that bore up well to the scrutiny of others. Antonia Waters was excused from the stand and returned to her seat next to her attorneys. They too, were beginning to look at her with contempt. The only reason they were there was that they were getting paid a lot of money, if not... well, let's just say, they weren't going to be too heartbroken if they lost.
"Put him on the stand," she hissed at them. They stared at her in disbelief. Was she out of her mind?! One of them tried to point out that putting her son on the stand was not going to be in her best interest.
"I don't care. Put the brat on the stand. If I had to sit through that then so does he."
The venom in her voice was palpable. They shifted uneasily in their seats. The woman was obviously beginning to lose control. Still, she was their client. The lead attorney rose and addressed the judge.
"Your Honour, we call Robert Samuels to the stand."
Liam glanced at Matt in absolute horror; Matt placed a restraining hand on his arm. He looked over to where Antonia Waters sat with a self-satisfied look in her face. You absolute witch! You know exactly what you're doing. Don't you?
He glanced over his shoulder to see the absolutely fuming section of Liam and Robbie supporters situated behind him. If looks could kill, all their problems would be over because Antonia Waters would be dead so many times over...
Sighing, Matt rose to his feet. "Your Honour, may I request a recess until tomorrow. Robbie is currently aboard the Taelon mothership. It will take time to make the necessary arrangements."
Judge MacKenzie said, "Permission granted. This court is in recess until ten o'clock tomorrow morning."
Matt turned to Liam, saying, "I'm sorry. She has no reason to do this other than spite. She's losing and she knows it."
"I know, Matt. It's not your fault. I've just got to figure out how I'm going to tell Robbie."
They walked towards their assembled friends, Renee reached out her hand to grasp Liam's hand; automatically, he accepted it and held on to it tightly. Softly, she said, "Come on, Liam. Let's get out of here. The Volunteers have cleared a pathway for us. You need to go talk to Robbie."
Matt and Sandoval watched in silence as the pair walked away. Matt turned to apologise to Ron but again was told not to bother; this was not his fault. Sandoval looked at him and said, "Just protect him as best you can when he's on the stand. That's all we ask."
The next day at exactly 9.59 a.m. the double doors to the courtroom opened with a resounding bang. All eyes turned to the open doors as two Volunteers entered and took up position guarding the doors. The court's official guards looked on angrily at this usurpation of their sworn duty. The reason quickly became apparent, though, as the group they were guarding made their way through the open door; Liam Kincaid, Ronald Sandoval, Renee Palmer and Robbie Samuels.
The teenage boy that was the focus behind this entire hearing had a set expression on his face as he made his way slowly down the aisle towards the seats at the front of the public gallery. His blond hair was tied back in a ponytail and he was wearing a dark grey T-shirt and black jeans. One leg was split at the side to allow easy access to the cast that he was wearing. It was lightweight and comfortable but he still needed a pair of crutches to help him manoeuvre. The group accompanying him matched his slow pace and the trip was made in absolute silence.
Giving Robbie what he hoped was a reassuring smile, Liam left him in the capable care of Renee and his father and continued on to take his seat beside Matt. Facing the opposite way, the pair didn't see the look that the teen directed at the table where his mother sat; Renee and Sandoval did and they found it hard to rein in their feelings of anticipation. Robbie's gaze was dangerous; it looked like he was spoiling for the chance to act.
Judge Andrew MacKenzie entered and the business of the court quickly got under way. Robbie was called to the stand and anticipation hung in the air. He sat gingerly in the seat and extended his cast encased leg out as best as he was able. Robbie sat there with a set expression and waited tensely for the questioning to begin. Liam, deciding that the boy needed to relax, caught his eye, winked at him and smiled. Robbie relaxed, smiling back at him. Matt had witnessed the entire incident but he didn't say a word. He did note, with secret delight, that Judge MacKenzie had noticed the silent communication between the man and boy; he looked quietly approving.
Antonia Waters' lead attorney approached Robbie. He glanced at the boy and wondered where to start. His problem was the he wouldn't want to live with the witch either, but he had a job to do.
"Robert, would you tell us about the incident at the school that Major Kincaid selected for you."
Robbie frowned at the man. "What do you mean?"
The lawyer gave a sly smile. "I'm referring to the fact that you were forcibly taken from that school by a group of anti-Taelon extremists."
"That wasn't Liam's fault!"
"Come now, Robert--"
"My name is Robbie! It wasn't Liam's fault! He and Ron - I mean Agent Sandoval - discussed the options available for my choice of school. The school they chose - which I love - had what was considered to be the best security in the city.
"When it was apparent that I was going to be skipped a couple of grades Liam asked me if I wanted to get tutors instead or if I wanted to go to the school; he gave me the choice and I chose the school. Inside information on the security procedures was passed to the group that targeted and took the five of us. There was little that anybody could have done to stop them.
"Liam, Ron and the Volunteers worked tirelessly with the police and the federal authorities to get us back. How can I find fault with any of that? It's not their fault that those cowards targeted children to get their message across - it's something that they would never do themselves. I had faith that they'd get us all back safe and I wasn't disappointed. They did it.
"I've made lots of friends at my school and I enjoy every minute of it. Liam and Ron talked to the school and took personal charge of upgrading the security protocols. We all feel safe there, even the five of us that were taken."
The lawyer looked discomfited by the boy's stout defence of his guardian, Liam and Sandoval were seen to shift uncomfortably under Robbie's praise, and a rather loud whisper of 'You tell 'em, Robbie' was heard from the public gallery; Matt Henderson found it hard not to gloat. Antonia Waters' spite had backfired on her in a big way.
The harried lawyer quickly found that the next twenty minutes or so were some of the worst that he had ever experienced in a courtroom. No matter what he tried, Robbie turned his twisted questions back on him and told the truth. He didn't flinch when his past abuse in foster care was mentioned. He told the court what had happened and with a glare for the lawyer offered to show the scars. When questioned about why, if his fear of being placed back in care was the reason for escaping to the streets, why did he feel content to stay with Major Kincaid rather than his mother? Robbie replied simply. "Liam is the first guardian in years that I've felt safe with."
One line of questioning had unanticipated results. When the lawyer pressed Robbie on how he felt about being deposited with friends of the major's while he went out with Ms. Palmer, Robbie laughed out loud.
"You're kidding, right?! They're adults. Of course they're going to go out on a date and leave a teenage kid with a babysitter. It's what normal people do! Besides, I've had to practically twist their arms to get them to go out together as it is. I think they make a great couple and I want them both to be happy; most of our friends agree with me. The only people that don't seem to realise that fact are them themselves; I'm working on it, though."
Robbie's cheeky grin and the embarrassed flushes on the face of Liam Kincaid and Renee Palmer had the entire courtroom in stitches.
When solemnity was resumed, the lawyer tried one final desperate line of questioning. "Robert... I'm sorry, Robbie... don't you think that you're mother deserves the opportunity to make things up to you? She's changed. She's sober now."
Eyes glacial, Robbie looked at his mother and then back at the lawyer. "I have nothing to say to Mrs. Waters. I want nothing to do with her."
Chidingly, the lawyer said, "You mean your mother."
"No, sir. I mean Mrs. Waters. In describing her I may have to name her as my mother but I do not think of her that way. I never can and I never will. Four years of abuse robbed her of that right. I will never feel safe in her presence, I will never feel loved, and I will never feel cherished. I bear her no ill will, I give her no special thoughts; I don't want to think about her at all.
"I'm in a home now where I am given all those things as a matter of course. A home where I finally feel safe. I don't want to leave it."
The lawyer admitted defeat and said, "No further questions, Your Honour."
When Matt was asked if he wanted to begin his questions, he rose smiling and said, "There's no need, Your Honour. I think Robbie covered everything."
Robbie was excused and walked back towards his seat. Both sides declined to call any more witnesses so the judge retired to make his decision. The court was ordered to reconvene at ten o'clock the next morning.
Liam's apartment was finally silent now that he had persuaded Renee and his father to go home. They had accompanied them back from the court, unwilling to let Liam and Robbie brood on the possible outcome of the hearing. The concern had been genuinely appreciated but neither had particularly felt like putting on an act of cautious optimism. Things had gone well during the hearing but the possibility of Judge MacKenzie following established precedents and placing Robbie with his surviving parent still remained; they were nervous.
Robbie had co-opted the couch, it made stretching out his injured leg that much easier. After seeing Renee and his father to the door, Liam had returned and took a seat next to the boy. Robbie instinctively nestled closer and his head dropped to rest on Liam's shoulder. Liam cradled the boy close and began to run a soothing hand up and down his back.
Robbie whispered something that caused a dart of pure worry to race through Liam's heart. "If they make me go live with her and her husband I'll run. I'd rather be on the streets than stay with her."
Liam tightened his hold on the boy, a brief burst of anguish shining in his eyes. Robbie would do it and he wouldn't come home to him - much as he might want to or much as Liam might want him to. Robbie would never do anything to cause him to get into trouble.
They stayed there on the couch for hours, silently waiting for the morning and the decision that was going to affect the rest of their lives. Liam sent up a silent prayer to anyone listening that he be given the chance to take care of the boy that had effortlessly captured a place in his heart.
"...Sole custody of Robert Samuels to Major Liam Kincaid..."
Judge Andrew MacKenzie's voice was almost drowned out by the cheers that erupted from half his courtroom. He couldn't find it in himself to rebuke the crowd. The tension in his court as he had prepared to give his ruling had been so thick that it could have been cut with the proverbial knife.
Antonia Waters sat with her lawyers, a scowl on her face. By contrast, Liam Kincaid hugged Matt Henderson before vaulting over the barrier and moving to the person that had just become his official responsibility for the rest of his life. Face beaming, eyes radiating his profound relief, Robbie threw himself into his guardian's arms and nearly had the stuffing hugged right out of him.
Grinning, Matt Henderson thought about the adoption proceedings that he was due to start first thing the next day. Tonight however, there was going to be a party at the Washington Embassy and that he wasn't going to miss for the world.
The jubilant group was making their way down the steps from the court building, blessedly free from media intrusion. The media were keeping their distance, the official reprimand made by the court and the flinty gazes of the Volunteers working to keep them at a respectful distance.
The Waters' party had no such luck, the tide had turned and the tabloids were now hounding them. Sandoval looked over at them with a smile on his face, it couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch of people. His eyes widened in absolute disbelief. How the hell had she managed to...
Coming to his senses, Sandoval yelled, "Gun! Robbie, Renee, Liam... down. NOW!"
Cursing, Liam literally threw himself at Renee and Robbie, pushing them out of the line of fire. He heard the gun go off and then - as Volunteer bodies piled on top of them to shield them further - the distinctive sound of a skrill blast.
Eyes blazing, Sandoval snapped out orders that had Volunteers calling for medical assistance and running to apprehend Antonia and Frank Waters. That done, he turned to assess the damage to his people. She'd fired a single shot before he had managed to get a clear target to look at... had she hit anyone?
The Volunteers quickly jumped to their feet and moved to help the intended targets of the shooting. The Volunteer that had reached Major Kincaid first was the last up. She staggered to her feet and felt something sticky on her hands. Horrified, she raised them up to see a sight that literally stopped her heart beating. "Sir!" she screamed. "The Major's down!"
Ashen faced, Sandoval watched as a sobbing Renee and near hysterical Robbie were pulled clear. Liam lay there on the steps, a gunshot wound easily identifiable by the spreading puddle of blood. The female Volunteer had dropped to her knees feeling for a pulse. Sandoval's heart didn't start to beat again until she said, "He has a pulse. It's weak, but it's there."
Sandoval opened his global again and barked in the most terrifying words he had ever said. "We have a Protector down. Notify the nearest medical authorities and get Drs. Melissa Park and Julianne Belman. Now! Tell them its Major Kincaid."
Sandoval then moved to encompass both Renee Palmer and Robbie Samuels in a hug; damn what anybody might think. Liam was the tie that bound them all together and right now there was the very real possibility that they might lose him.