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The Sound of Falling Glass

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Shattered like a window pane

broken by a storm, each tiny piece of me lies alone.

Scattered, far beyond repair

all my shining dreams, just lying there.

I'm broken, but I'm laughing,

it's the sound of falling glass

I hope that you won't mind if I should cry,

in public, while I wait for this to pass…[1]

 

He didn't know when the pain stopped.  He wasn't even sure what was being done to him, or why.  Every sensation had been stolen away, twisted and distorted. They weren't his anymore.  They were outside… his grasp.

His grasp.

He had no hands, no eyes, no ears… no body.  He was nothing… nothing.  Nothing… but… pain.

There was always the pain, and a face.  A disembodied face he felt he should know.  He did know it.  But from where?

A whimper of a name tugged at his lost throat, then faded into familiar agony.

He began to hate the face.  It hurt.  It hurt him.  The face was pain.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"What do you mean he's missing?" Ironhorse snapped.

Clutching his hands behind his back, the colonel fought the urge to pace the hotel corridor.  He listened to his sergeant's reply as he stared at the hallway mural across from Blackwood's open room door.  The painting depicted various New York City skylines for promotional purposes, but the Project members weren't in the city on vacation.  He hadn't really noticed the murals until now.  He let his gaze travel over the tangle of painted buildings.  Blackwood could be out there anywhere, lost or hidden, and it was one damned big city.  Damned big.  His eyes narrowed.

 

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

          Sergeant Norah Coleman drew herself up, her already sharp attention stance hardening further.  At least it was a private dressing down, the Blackwood Project having taken control of the entire floor in the luxury hotel.

          "Sir, he went in to take a nap, and when I knocked to wake him—"

"Who was on duty?"

"Sergeant Stravrakos and myself, sir."

The man's black eyes narrowed further.  Lieutenant Colonel Paul Ironhorse had trained the elite Omega Squad himself, and Coleman and Stravrakos were two of his very best.  He had entrusted the lives and safety of the Blackwood Project members to the NCOs on many occasions.  If Harrison was missing, they were dealing with something far from the ordinary.

"And you didn't see anyone?" Ironhorse demanded, taking three clipped strides away from the woman.

"No, sir.  No one entered this hallway.  Stein had the entrance covered.  No one got on the floor.  Alverez was at the other end, and there was no activity there either.  I've reviewed the surveillance tapes for all of the security locations, and there's nothing, sir."

Ironhorse spun and jabbed a finger at the half-open door.  "Then how the hell do you explain that empty room!"

She swallowed hard, then said, "I don't know, sir."

The colonel stormed past Coleman.  "Neither do I, but I intend to find out.  I want a team briefing in fifteen minutes, Sergeant."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Harrison curled in tighter on himself, the cold eating its way into his aching body and forcing him out of his stupor.  With effort, he cracked open his eyes.  Gray paint curled daintily off the cinder-block wall in front of him.  Slowly, like a man emerging from a cold cocoon, he unfolded himself and sat up on the wooden shelf that served as a bed.  Bare feet reached the icy cement floor, and he glanced down, wondering if the appendages were his own.

He searched his memories for a name, but the only thing he found in the foggy maze of disconnected, writhing confusion was the face… and the pain.

He retreated.

Standing, he realized there was nowhere to go.  No direction held a purpose, so he sat, sliding back to press against the rough wall, anchoring himself to the physical world.  Or was it?

Was it real?  Where was he?  Who was he?

He pulled his knees up, wrapping his arms around his legs and hugging them to his chest.  There was a sliver of memory.  A vague shadow of a voice… and hands… arms holding him when he'd been hurt and frightened, and he'd felt… safe.

The face returned, and with it the stabbing agony that split his mind.  He pressed his palms against his temples to hold his skull together, but the pain exploded, and tilting his head back, he opened his mouth and screamed.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Paul, where could he be?"

Ironhorse paused in his march toward the door of the suite he had been using as a command center since their arrival.  Escaping the two worried Project members would be impossible until he talked to them.  He just wished he had something useful to say.  Taking a deep breath, he wondered if they were as scared and worried as he was, and immediately knew they were.

"I don't know, Suzanne.  We've been over every inch of this building and there's no sign of him."

"But that's impossible," Norton argued, rolling up alongside the microbiologist, who was perched on the edge of the comfortable sofa.  "Even Harrison can't just disappear."

"Look, I'm as worried as you are," Ironhorse told the pair calmly, "but we have to face the facts.  Our security's been compromised.  I have to get you and the other scientists out of this hotel and into a secured location as quickly as possible."

Suzanne ran a hand over her long brown hair, tucking it nervously behind her ear.  "I realize that, Paul, but I'm… scared for him," she concluded, reaching out to rest a hand on Drake's shoulder.

The black man reached up, squeezing her fingers.

"Me, too, Suzanne," Ironhorse admitted, staring at their hands.  He blinked and glanced away.  "But, as soon as I know you're safe, I can devote my time to tracking Harrison down.  Hell, maybe he decided to do some early Christmas shopping," he added, trying to sound more positive than he felt.

It failed, but Suzanne nodded, took a deep breath and stood.  "So, what're we waiting for?  Let's do it."

Paul nodded back, his gaze dropping to meet Norton's.

"The Doc's okay.  He's just playing hooky," the computer hacker said staunchly, then grabbed the wheels of his wheelchair.  "Let's go, Gertrude, time to boogie."

Ironhorse watched them head for the door and leave, hoping Drake was right. If the aliens had managed to get their hands on Blackwood, they might just lose the planet.

He shivered despite the warm afternoon.  How? he demanded silently.  How the hell had it happened?  And why?  Another friend was gone.  Missing.  Fate unknown.  Just like 'Nam and all the other dirty little wars he'd fought in… just like the men he'd lost to the aliens.  Well, not again.

He stalked out of the hotel room.  He had a job to do, and by God he would do it.  Harrison Blackwood was not going to be another casualty of their covert war against the aliens.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"The scientists are all settled in, Colonel," reported Sergeant Derriman, Omega's first-sergeant, as he walked up to join Ironhorse in the lobby of the old-fashioned, almost medieval hotel that sat just inside the main gates at West Point.  The Thayer usually housed the various visitors at the Point, but for now it had been turned into a high security encampment.

Paul nodded.  Four hours had ground by since Blackwood had disappeared, and the remaining scientists were now safely tucked away on the Academy campus, three Special Forces squads providing extra security to ensure their safety.

"Dr. McCullough asked me to tell you Dr. Hildabrant's stepped in and is getting the seminar back on track," the senior NCO reported.

"I thought she might," Ironhorse responded.  Dr. Dayle Hildabrant was a gifted geneticist with a strong personality.  Between her and Suzanne the meetings would continue.  All of the attendees, scientists from across the country, were working on the "alien problem" in some way.  They had met for a brainstorming session, collaborating to determine the next set of research priorities.  "Anything from Coleman?" he asked.

Derriman shook his head, saying, "No, sir.  She finished interviewing the hotel staff.  No one saw anything out of the ordinary."

The colonel shook his head.  "We're overlooking something, John.  Blackwood couldn't dematerialize…"  He paused.  Could he?  Given some of the things Paul had seen since he had met Blackwood, he couldn't completely rule out the possibility. He gave his head a slight shake.  Until they had ruled out all the reasonable possibilities, he wasn't going to give in to flights of imagination.  "I want to see a complete schematic for that building, and have Stravrakos and Alverez check out the ventilation and duct system.  Plumbing, too.  I want any route that might have been used to get Blackwood out of the building examined, inch by inch."

"I'm on it, sir."

"And Derriman."

The sergeant paused, turning back.  "Yes, sir?"

"Have Goodson check over everyone on duty at the time Dr. Blackwood disappeared, as well as those from the shift before."

"For?" Derriman asked, hoping he could find the medic easily.

"Any evidence of exposure to gas or drugs.  Have him go over every inch of skin for pinpricks, or anything else out of the ordinary.  Anything."

The sergeant nodded.  "I'll get on it, sir."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Harrison Blackwood was asleep again.  Quinn watched the astrophysicist, a small smile on his face.  Humans were ridiculously easy targets.  Each one of them harbored so many fears that it was appallingly simple to exploit them, and Harrison Blackwood was particularly vulnerable.

The early loss of Harrison's parents, his lonely obsession with the aliens, and his lack of interpersonal relationships made it easy for Quinn to design a nightmare scenario.  Ironhorse was the key.  Harry trusted the Army officer, depended on him in ways that left Blackwood open to being hurt… being broken.

Quinn snorted softly to himself.  Ironhorse.  The man had been nothing but a nuisance.  He was dedicated, competent, and had drive, a combination that needed to be removed.  Harrison would do it for him.

Poor Harry.  He was going to lose another friend.

Still, Quinn considered, it had taken longer than he had anticipated to break through Blackwood's defenses.  But Harry was ready now.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The smile widened.  Once Ironhorse was dead, the mutant alien thought, Blackwood would be his to manipulate.  Harry would talk to the United Nations, and make the selections Quinn had requested the first time he had lured Blackwood into his control.  Ten percent of the human population would be spared, although Quinn wondered if that might not be too large a number.

Then, with Harry's help, the Advocates would be removed, and Quinn would take command of the Mor'taxan troops.  Earth would be made ready for those who were coming.  They would live life immortal.

Yes, Quinn thought.  Harry will do anything I tell him… once the good colonel is out of the way.  The Advocates will be removed, and I will rule this planet. It is my destiny.

He looked back at Blackwood.  One more session and it would be perfect.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse stood at the edge of the West Point parade field, known to the cadets as "the Plain".  He had sought out the location to escape the constant tension-filled buzz of activity in the Thayer Hotel.  The anxious air that clung to the squad, Norton and Suzanne grated on him and made it hard to think.  Standing, looking out across the large manicured field, gave him a sense of calm.  He sighed.  All that activity, and for what?  They had made next to no progress.

"Sir," Goodson said, his hand coming up in an automatic salute as he joined the colonel.

"Report," Paul ordered, his eyes still scanning the large grassy field.

"Not a thing, sir.  I ran every test I could come up with, and invented a few just for good measure.  I didn't find a trace of anything suspicious."

Nodding, Ironhorse's eyes closed for a moment.  It was time to stop worrying, to get back to work.  He glanced at the medic, then strode back toward the hotel where the scientists were staying, Goodson at his heels.  "Good work, Corporal."

"Oh, Stravrakos is back with the schematics you requested, sir.  He's waiting for you in the lobby."

"Thank you," Paul said, his step quickening.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

There was no time, no day or night, just nothingness… and nightmares, with twisted images he couldn't understand… and pain.

Always the pain.

And the face.

The soft hiss filling his ears told him the dreams would come soon.  The face would return.  Harrison whimpered softly.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Good work, Stravrakos," Ironhorse said, his finger tapping the schematics nervously.  At least he knew Blackwood hadn't been beamed out of the New York hotel.  There were at least three routes a brilliant, determined kidnapper could have used to get Blackwood out of the building once they were in the ventilation system.

The colonel's teeth ground in frustration.  How they had bypassed the sensors in the ducts on the floor was still a mystery.  Whoever they were dealing with, he was very dangerous.

"What's our next move, sir?" the sergeant asked.

"Take three and go back to the hotel.  I want these routes checked.  Dr. Blackwood might have left something behind."

"Yes, sir."

"And make contact with the local police.  I want them looking for Blackwood, just in case, but I don't want them to approach him.  If they spot him, they call us and we'll take it from there.  Set it up, and I'll talk to whoever's necessary to clear it."

"Right away, sir."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

No! Harrison screamed, running blindly.  Behind him three warships closed in, their death rays occasionally striking out, whipping around him, slicing through him.

Something in the confusion caught his attention, and he sprinted for it, uncaring if it was a new danger or not.  Nothing mattered except finding an escape from the monsters hovering above.

Ironhorse.

The colonel stood, his feet spread apart, looking unafraid in his cammo uniform.  He watched the soldier reach down, touching the tomahawk hanging at his hip.  It was a challenge to the beings in the ships.  The battle baton was strapped down on his opposite leg, and an Uzi rested comfortably in his hands.

"Paul!  They're coming, we have to—"

His warning was cut short when the colonel's hand shot out, fingers snaring his leather jacket.  He struggled, but the soldier's grip tightened, and the barrel of the Uzi plowed into his ribs.  He wanted to trust the soldier, wanted to feel safe and protected, but—

Harrison felt the deathray just before it hit, the overwhelming heat engulfing them both, melting the flesh off his body.  He screamed, but the flames licked into his mouth. He struggled, but Ironhorse refused to release him.  He writhed, mind and body exploding, the white-hot agony forcing him to his knees.

With a whimper Harrison looked up, begging, but the face above his just watched… the face… Ironhorse… pain… then came oblivion.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse watched as the bus carrying the scientists rolled past West Point's main gates.  Seventy-seven hours since Blackwood had vanished, and the top-secret meeting was over.  The researchers were on their way back to their homes, and he was no closer to finding the astrophysicist than he had been three days ago.

The remainder of the Blackwood Project wanted to stay in New York, but there was too much work to be done.  Mrs. Pennyworth and Omega E had already evacuated the Cottage after the first twenty-four hours had passed, taking up residence in a backup safe house in northern California.

"Colonel," Norton called, drawing the soldier back from the place he had retreated to behind the vacant obsidian stare.  "There's a call for you."

Paul followed Drake through the newly deserted Thayer Hotel lobby to where Suzanne stood by the phone, waiting.  Snatching up the receiver, he barked, "Ironhorse."

"Colonel Ironhorse, I understand you're looking for Dr. Blackwood."

The voice sent a chill down the soldier's back, the muscles pinching painfully between his shoulder blades.  "And you're going to tell me where he is?"

"Oh, yes, Colonel, I most certainly am."

Ironhorse took the address down, then hung up.  Glancing away, he tried to ignore the two expectant civilians waiting for him to tell them what was going on.

"Thanks, Norton," was all he said.  "I'll be going out."

"Paul!" Suzanne snapped.  "Who was that?  What's going on?"

Ironhorse's jaws clenched as he heard her tone, his lips disappearing into a thin line as he debated whether or not to tell them.  He could use his usual "need to know" evasion, but given the looks he was getting, it wouldn't work.

"Quinn," he said simply.

"Great," the hacker sighed.  "Why do I feel like that was obvious?"

"Stay here," Ironhorse commanded the two civilians.  "Sergeant Derriman is arranging for your transportation back to a safe house later this morning."

"Paul, if you think we're leaving before this is settled—"

"Suzanne," he interrupted.  "We've got a war to fight, and waiting around here isn't going to do anyone any good.  You both have things you need to do."  He paused, wishing none of the elaborate precautions were necessary.  How the hell had he let Harrison get abducted?  The shadowed black eyes flickered to the pair.  In many ways he wished they could stay.  It would be nice to have the support.

"We'll join you just as soon as we can," he finished, knowing that "soon" could be "never" at the rate they were going.  It was clear neither of the Project members were happy with the decision, but their lack of objection assured the colonel they would comply.

"Be careful," Suzanne said.  "Debi would never forgive me if anything happened to you, or Harrison."

Ironhorse nodded, starting to step away.

"Bring him home, Colonel," Norton added.  "We need him."

"I know, Mr. Drake.  I know."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse sat in the rented LeBaron, scowling at the empty lot in the middle of a decaying industrial section of New York City.

Quinn had given him a phony address.

The mobile phone lying on the seat beside him rang, and he snapped it up.  "What's the game, Quinn?" he demanded.

"I just wanted to be sure you followed my instructions, Colonel," Quinn replied cheerfully.  "I wasn't sure I could trust you to come alone."

"I'm here, Quinn.  Where's Blackwood?"

"Continue to the end of the street, turn left and follow the road until it ends.  You'll find an old warehouse near the river.  Harry's waiting there for you.  And Colonel, don't call in your men or all you'll find is a body."

Ironhorse jabbed the "end" button, terminating the conversation without replying.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Harrison wandered through the cold, damp building, keeping to the shadows. The large airy space beyond the rows of rusted machines frightened him.  The warships were out there, waiting for him to venture too far into the open so they could swoop down and carry out their attack.

The air was dank and imbued with a metal taste that coated his mouth and made his fillings hurt.  Water dripped through several tears in the ceiling, spreading out in black pools across the floor like sinister wet amoebas that reflected the broken shafts of light that found their way in from… outside.

Outside?

The word had no meaning, though he thought it should.  There was something waiting outside… someone waiting.

The low growl of an automobile motor vibrated through the walls and floor, rippling the liquid black surface of the puddles.  He started to tremble, sweat beading across his face and chest, and his hands curled into balls.

He stared at the shiny metal object he held in one hand.  It confused him.  He wanted to drop it, but he didn't know how.  A quiet squeak of metal ended his efforts.

His heart beat nearly as loud as the breeze whistling through the structure.  Run!  Run! he commanded himself.

He should run, but where?  Where was safety?

What was coming?  The warships?  Aliens?

He remained rooted next to the puddle, his fingers squeezing the butt of the revolver in his hand.  He—

"Harrison?"

He sucked in a breath and held it.

"Harrison."

The call was insistent, closer than he expected, and he felt the pull, his feet slapping through the water, carrying him closer to the open space beyond the shadows.

Movement disorientated him, flashing across his peripheral vision.  Without realizing it, the revolver rose and he sighted along the silver barrel.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse slipped silently into the unlit warehouse.  Pausing to let his eyes adjust, he listened.  Pooled water from a recent rain trickled down from several holes in the roof.  Rats moved behind the long-abandoned pieces of heavy machinery.  In the distance, boats and barges moved sluggishly along the Hudson River.  He inched further into the building, looking, listening.

He paused, easing into a shadow, his shoulder pressing against the rust-coated metal as he passed by.  There was a soft moan as it gave slightly.  He froze and listened.

Breathing.  And close by.

Stalking the sound, Ironhorse wove silently between the old machines until…  There.  Blackwood.

He stared at the civilian who was clad only in dirty jeans and an unbuttoned flannel shirt that hung open, exposing large bruises on the scientist's chest.  Blackwood's face was equally blemished.

What the hell's happened to him? Ironhorse wondered, moving closer, saying aloud, "Harrison?"

His blue eyes widened and Blackwood sucked in a breath and held it.

"Harrison."

Blackwood took several unsteady steps out into the open area in the center of the warehouse, and the colonel saw the weapon.

Blackwood with a gun? Ironhorse eased the Geiger-counter out of his pocket and checked.  Normal.  His eyes fell closed for a moment.  Thank you, Grandfather.

It was time to move.

Ironhorse sprinted from where he stood, intending to force Blackwood back into the cover of the shadows, but the revolver sprang up faster than he had thought possible, centering on him.  Blackwood's free hand came up, cradling the first.

The colonel stopped, his hands coming up automatically, the palms turned toward the astrophysicist.  "Harrison, it's okay.  It's me."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The face!

Harrison's hands began to shake, but he couldn't force them down, nor break contact with the black eyes that regarded him with… concern?

The agony descended suddenly and he moaned.

"Harrison, what's wrong?"

The face was speaking.  It was speaking to him.  It called him Harrison.

"Harrison?"

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The voice sounded rough, desperate, but the images exploding in front of Harrison's eyes cut off any thoughts about why the voice might sound concerned.  The warships were back, the deathray, the fire… his flesh was melting.

"No!" Blackwood yelled, one hand, clamping down on the other gripping the revolver.  His body shook, but he was able to drag the hammer back.

"Harrison, it's me," Ironhorse ground out, his hand slipping automatically for the M9 tucked into its web-belt holster.  "Just take it easy.  It's me.  I'm here to help."

Blackwood blinked rapidly, trying to differentiate the two sets of images he was seeing.  Ironhorse… the face… the face that brought pain, but there was something else… something—p

"Easy, Harrison."

"There he is, Harry."

Both men jumped as the voice echoed out of the darkness of the immense warehouse.  Microphone of some kind, Ironhorse recognized immediately.

"He's the one.  Remember the pain, Harry?"

Blackwood's gaze locked on Ironhorse's and the colonel could see the indecision surging in the stormy blue eyes.  Quinn had brainwashed Blackwood, and he was the target.  Damn it.

Paul took a deep breath, and felt the tremble quake through his body.  He was in some seriously deep shit.  Harrison had been difficult to get to know, to develop a trust with.  If Quinn used all that…  "I don't know what's happened here, Harrison, but I haven't hurt you.  You know that.  Talk to me, Harrison.  I'm your friend."

"He's the enemy, Harry.  A killer.  The military is your enemy.  They persecuted Dr. Forrester.  They treat you like a prisoner."

An odd warbling sound filled the building, prompting a low moan from Blackwood.

"Harrison, what is it?" Ironhorse demanded.  With rising panic he watched the scientist's finger slip around the trigger.  "Damn it, Harrison, talk to me."

The fingertip went white as he began to squeeze.

"I'm your friend, Harrison, not that damned mutant alien.  You're my friend. We work together on the Blackwood Project.  Do you remember?  Norton and Suzanne?  Harrison, I won't hurt you.  Listen to me.  I'm not your enemy.  The aliens are."

Harrison blinked rapidly as sweat seeped into his eyes.  His body shook and he panted for a breath.  "P-Paul?"

Ironhorse nodded, his gaze flickering back and forth between Blackwood's wide blue eyes and his quaking finger.  "It's me, Harrison.  I won't hurt you.  Give me the gun.  It's okay.  You can trust me, Harrison.  Give me the gun."

"C-Can't.  Enemy.  Pain."  Blackwood's jaws ground shut, his face pinching as the warbling pitch intensified.

Ironhorse took a step closer.  Blackwood dropped the revolver, his hands coming up over his ears.  "No!" he screamed, bolting across the open space.  "We have to get out of here!  They're coming!"

Ironhorse raced after him, wondering if he had imagined the soft curse that echoed over the speaker system.   "Harrison!" he called.

Blackwood went rigid, stopping like he had collided with an invisible wall, then collapsed to the damp cement floor.  Screaming, he flailed wildly, slapping at his arms and chest.

Reaching his friend, Ironhorse grabbed the collar of Blackwood's shirt, dragging him behind one of the larger pieces of equipment near the door.  After a quick look around, he grasped Blackwood's shoulders, giving the still screaming man a rough shake.

"Harrison, snap out of it!"

"On fire!  I'm on fire!" he shrieked, still slapping at his chest.

Ironhorse shook Harrison a second time.  "Blackwood!"  The screaming stopped. "You're not on fire.  It's that bastard Quinn.  He's doing this to you."

"The warships, they're coming!  They're coming!  The deathray—"

"Blackwood!"  The third rough shake finally silenced Harrison completely.  "Listen to me.  There are no warships.  Do you understand?"

The wide blue eyes regarding Ironhorse said clearly that Harrison did not believe him.  "Warships, I saw–"

"Nothing.  You saw nothing but what you imagined.  Quinn did this to you, Harrison.  Quinn.  He's the one responsible."

Blackwood shivered and gave a soft whimper.

"We have to get the hell outta here."

"No," the astrophysicist gasped, nearly whining as he continued, "they're out there.  Waiting.  We-We can't."

Helping the panicked man to his feet, the colonel negotiated down the slim space between two rows of machines, dragging Harrison along.  He had to get Harrison out of the warehouse before Quinn had an opportunity to pull anything else.  He checked his watch.  Four minutes had passed since he left the car.  The Omegans would descend on the structure in two, the transmitter on the LeBaron leading them straight to the location.

Reaching the door where he had entered, Ironhorse held Harrison with one hand and gripped his M9 with the other.  He looked outside and found it quiet.

"Okay," he said to Harrison, "we're going to head straight for the car.  Understand?"

"No," the scientist muttered, his head snapping side to side.  "I can't go out there.  They're out there."

The rising fear in the civilian's eyes worried Ironhorse, but there was little he could do to reassure him.  "The car, Harrison.  We have to get to the car, then we're outta here.  Okay?  We'll be safe in the car."

"No, I can't."  The fear shifted subtly to anger.  "You're trying to kill me!" Blackwood exploded.

"Harrison—"

The astrophysicist caught the colonel in the mid-section with his shoulder, slamming him back against the wall.  With all the finesse of an angry ape Blackwood pummeled Ironhorse mercilessly.

"Doctor!" Paul yelled, his arms coming up to protect himself.  His lip was bleeding and he spat to keep from swallowing the copper-tainted taste, but he didn't counterattack.  Amid the rain of blows he was aware of the Omegans arrival and the two soldiers pulling the scientist off him.  By the time they had Blackwood subdued, the rest of the squad had swept through the building, finding no sign of Quinn.

"Report," Ironhorse commanded, striding out into the open area at the center of the building and pushing the black hair off his forehead.

"Sir, I think you should come take a look at this," Stravrakos said with a slight jerk of his head.

"Goodson?"

The medic trotted over to Ironhorse.  "I've got him sedated, sir.  He should be okay until we can get him to a hospital."

"Negative.  Get him back to the Point.  I want him isolated until we find out what's going on.  Tell the hospital he's to go into isolation with minimal contact and impose a complete information blackout."

"Yes, sir."

There was nothing he could do for Blackwood now except uncover the reasons for his bizarre behavior.  He nodded to the non-com and Stravrakos headed off.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"What do you make of it, sir?"

Ironhorse walked around the liquid-filled circular container, examining the set-up and the attached electrical equipment.  Pressing a button, he watched as three warships shimmered into existence on the open lid.  Quinn's voice emerged out of the chamber.

"Harry, they're coming for you.  Just like they did for your parents… over there.  Colonel Ironhorse.  Do you see him?  He won't let you run, Harry.  He's holding you.  The warships are getting closer.  They're firing, Harry.  You have to run, but he won't let you.  The fire is consuming you.  Beg, Harry.  Beg for your life…  He's laughing.  Colonel Ironhorse is laughing.  He is pain, Harry.  Ironhorse is pain."

With a growled curse, the colonel stabbed the power button, silencing the voice.  The images blinked out.  He turned his attention back to the equipment.  Quinn was clever, and thorough, but he couldn't know all of the ins and outs of the complicated relationship Ironhorse and Blackwood had shared over the past few years as they fought the aliens.  That was all that had kept the civilian from shooting Paul on the spot.  Whether or not it would be enough to break through the conditioning was a question the colonel decided belonged in the hands of an expert.

"Seal it up, Sergeant, no one in or out until the experts can go over it."

"Yes, sir."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse listened to the phone ring, tapping the toe of his combat boot against the baseboard beneath the window of his borrowed office.  Being back at West Point held none of the nostalgia he had anticipated, concern for Blackwood occupying all of his time.

"Hello?" a cultured, English-accented voice answered.

"McCall?"

"Yes."

The colonel closed his eyes.  "Robert, it's Paul Ironhorse."

"Colonel, nice to hear from you.  What can I do for you?"

"Can we meet?  It's important."

"Where?"

"West Point.  The Thayer Hotel."

"Right, I see.  Say in an hour and a half?"

"Thank you."

"Certainly."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse pushed out of his chair and stood as Robert McCall walked into the lobby of the old building.  The ex-agent looked the same as he had when the Colonel had seen him last in Africa in the mid-80s, and more recently in New York City.  After a short handshake, Ironhorse nodded toward the door.

Leading McCall along the scenic garden path generally referred to as "Flirtation Walk" by the cadets, Ironhorse explained Blackwood's situation.

"Does the device sound familiar?  I remember a standby briefing Delta Force was given a few years ago when we were placed on alert.  Your name came up as on-site commander."

McCall nodded.  "Yes, I know what it is.  I had thought we'd put an end to it at the time."

"And?" Ironhorse asked, stopping.

"It was part of a top-secret operation called Intangible Plastics."  He paused, his hands sliding into his overcoat pockets.  "Mind control.  Mickey was one of the… subjects."[2]

"Willing?"

McCall chuckled softly and shook his head.  "Oh no, not in the slightest."

"Who was behind it?

"The Soviets," McCall explained, starting off down the path, the colonel alongside.  "At least, on one level.  I have reason to believe that there were friendly organizations dabbling in the technology as well."

"Does the name Quinn ring a bell?"

A nod.  "Your renegade mutant alien."  McCall's expression turned thoughtful. "Some of the documents that were confiscated with Intangible Plastics mentioned a Quinn.  The Company tried tracking the lead down at the time, but they didn't get anywhere.  I hadn't made the possible connection until now.  Do you think he might have been involved?"

"Yes," was Ironhorse's taciturn reply, his tone leaving no room for doubt.

"And Dr. Blackwood was brainwashed through the splintering process?"

Ironhorse nodded.

"What were Blackwood's instructions?"

"To kill me."

McCall nodded.  He had faced the same situation when Mickey had been abducted.  "Did he make the attempt?"

"He started to, but he fought it off."

The ex-operative waited for Ironhorse to continue, finally prompting, "And?"

"He snapped.  He didn't kill me, but he's trapped wherever Quinn took him."

A heavy sigh escaped the retired agent.  "It sounds all too familiar, my friend. But, I do have a suggestion that might help."

There was a small lopsided grin.  "That's what I was hoping, McCall."

"There was a doctor, a psychiatrist who helped Mickey.  She's presently with the Pentagon."

"Amelia Poe?" Ironhorse asked with surprise.

McCall's eyes widened.  "You know her?"

A thin smile cracked the colonel's drawn face.  "Yes.  She's been working with some of our personnel on and off."

"Perhaps she could help Dr. Blackwood."  Robert stopped, gazing out at the slow moving Hudson River.  "Do you think this episode was related to what happened at the United Nations?"[3]

Ironhorse nodded.  "I'm just guessing, but I think Quinn wanted Blackwood to kill me in order to drive him over the edge.  Once there, he'd be easier to manipulate.  Quinn wants to spare ten percent of the world's population, placing them on reservations and killing the rest."

McCall shook his head.  He had heard similar schemes for world domination, and he still couldn't fathom the mental workings that fabricated them.  "I see."

"He wanted Blackwood to make the selections, then convince the U.N. Security Council to go along.  Quinn's insane.  He has to know we aren't going to just give up like that."

"What does he want?"

"To subdue the planet before the next wave of aliens arrive," Ironhorse said.  "He thinks he can lead the aliens already here, and that those coming will accept him."

"Maybe they would, if he conquered the planet."

"Maybe, but it's not going to happen."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Dr. Amelia Poe was not what Ironhorse had expected.  He wasn't sure how old she was, but decided sixty was a reasonable guess.  At five foot, the petite Chinese woman could still command the attention of everyone in a crowded room.  Dressed casually in jeans and a soft, rose-colored flannel shirt, she didn't look at all like the Pentagon's top mind-control expert.

After pouring herself a cup of hot water and fixing some tea, she walked over to one of the couches in the Thayer suite Ironhorse occupied.

"I've read your report, Colonel," she said, "and checked in on Harrison this morning."

"And?"

"I think your assessment is correct.  Harrison has been subjected to the splintering process."

Ironhorse stepped away from the window and sank down into one of the comfortable old chairs.  "Can you reverse it, or treat it?" he asked.  "You've been briefed on what Dr. Blackwood's involved with.  The future of this planet's at stake."

Dr. Poe nodded, then took another sip of her tea.  "When I was briefed by General Wilson, I found the information quite disturbing, to say the least.  That you have been waging this war for so long is tragic, but I understand that it is a war, Colonel."  Setting the empty cup aside, she folded her hands in her lap and leaned forward.  "I do want you to understand that I've only worked with one other individual who experienced this process."[4]

"Yes, I know.  Robert McCall and Mickey Kostmyer are friends of mine."

She nodded slightly, her head inclining slightly to the side.  "However, Mickey's situation was substantially different from Harrison's.  Harrison has his own unique demons to face, many of them intimately tied up in the images that were used against him.  These fears originated when his parents were killed in 1953 and further events in his life have only served to reinforce them."

Pushing himself to his feet, Ironhorse paced back to the window.  "What does that mean, Doctor?  That he can't be helped?"

"No, not at all, Colonel.  We will just have to go more slowly, more carefully, in order to avoid aggravating the situation."  She leaned back against the soft cushions and watched Paul carefully as she added, "And I'm reasonably sure I'm going to need your help as well."

"Mine?" he asked, turning to face the woman.

She smiled at the soldier's startled expression.  "Yes, Colonel.  You represent many things to Harrison – things he needs to face, and what he'll need in order to do that."

Ironhorse nodded slowly.  Fear churned in his guts.  If they lost Harrison they could lose the war.  He couldn't allow that to happen.

But what could he do?  Half the time Blackwood still acted like Ironhorse was the enemy.  What would he have to risk in order to reach the man?  Determination settled in his chest.  It didn't matter.  This was his mission.  His duty.

Duty.  Honor.  Country.  Wasn't that what it was all about?

Not to mention friends.  Brothers in arms.  Family.

"Whatever it takes, Doctor," Paul stated.

Dr. Poe smiled.  "Good.  First we will take him home.  He will be more relaxed and receptive in familiar surroundings.  I assume I may accompany him?"

"Yes, ma'am," Ironhorse said, "you're completely cleared."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Harrison squeezed his eyes shut, then forced his brow up, hoping that would break the seal sleep had on his heavy eyelids.  It worked, and he blinked, clearing away the fog.  Head lolling to one side, his gaze swept over the room.  It was familiar.  He was… home.

Home?

With a groan, he pushed himself up.  He hurt.  Everywhere.

Looking down at his mid-section Harrison discovered the reason.  Bruises.  Large green and yellow smears stretched across his chest and abdomen, the twisted patterns curling like they were shrinking away from the pain.

My God, he thought.  Someone beat the hell out of me.  Who?  Why?

Memories like vague suggestions rattled in the back of his mind.  He knew the answers were there, but he couldn't wrap his sluggish thoughts around them.

He rubbed his face, and stood, shuffling over to a heavy oak dresser.  Pulling open a drawer, he dressed thoughtlessly, then stumbled out the door.  Taking the elevator he stabbed "1" without thinking, the doors opening in the basement labs at the Cottage.

He stepped out, staring at the three people gathered around a computer screen.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"It's got to be them," the black, wheelchair-bound hacker said.  "If they'd just kept transmitting a little longer I'd have an exact fix on them."

"That's my guess as well," responded a pretty brown-haired woman.  "But what in the world could they want, or need, around the Golden Gate bridge?"

"Maybe they're planning to jump?" the black man offered with a grin.

"I'll get Omega."

The voice.  Ironhorse.  Harrison watched as the colonel stepped around the workstation, then braked to an abrupt halt.

"Harrison?" Paul asked.

Blackwood's grasp on the surroundings wavered, images breaking loose, assaulting him, blocking out what was there.  He swayed.  Hands were immediately on his shoulders, guiding him to a chair.

"Harrison?  Can you hear me?"

"S-Suzanne?"  A smile filled his vision, and he felt a light kiss on his forehead.

"You had us worried, Doc," Norton said, rolling up to join them.  He reached out and lightly slapped Blackwood's knee.

Harrison gave them a tired smile.  "Sorry."

"I'll get Dr. Poe on my way out," Ironhorse said, hastily moving away and noticing the wary eye Blackwood kept on him.

"Why don't you come upstairs," Suzanne suggested after Paul disappeared into the stairwell.  "Mrs. P can make you some of that hot herbal tea you swear by."

Harrison nodded.  Why was he afraid of Ironhorse?  What had happened to him?  The bruises?  He stared at the stairs, his fingers automatically rubbing over the discoloration.  He had the uneasy feeling that he wasn't going to like the answers.

Reaching out, he grabbed Suzanne's wrist.  "What happened to me?" he asked.

She looked away.  "Come upstairs, Harrison," she repeated.  "There's someone you need to talk to."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Amelia sat in her first floor room and scanned the file she balanced in her lap. The West Point hospital had done an excellent physical evaluation of Harrison Blackwood, but they didn't have a clue as to the nature of the psychological intrusion he had suffered.  That didn't surprise her.  It was still something of a mystery to her as well.  One thing that she had learned working with Mickey, targeting an emotionally close relation seemed to weaken the process.  For some reason, the mind refused to completely overwrite the trust and affection that already existed.  As a result, Ironhorse was the worst possible choice Quinn could have made to use on Harrison Blackwood.  Of course if he had been successful, there would be no way to erase the programming.  It was a risk, picking Ironhorse, but Quinn struck her as the type to take risks.  But this time, he had failed.  She could feel it.

She closed the folder and opened Blackwood's personal file.  The man was brilliant, another factor in his favor.  And his mind was disciplined, thanks to the yoga and meditations, also pluses.  If she could just get him to work past the initial programming, it should be easy to dispel the most obvious implants.  Helping tease out the more subtle effects would take more time and effort.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse climbed the stairs two at a time, trying to escape the memory of the haunted blue eyes that refused to fade.  Damn it, why hadn't he heard the man? Why hadn't he been more careful?  It was clear that Harrison was traumatized by just seeing him.

He paused at the top of the flight, hands resting defiantly on his hips.  He was not going to give up on Harrison, but the nagging feeling that he was slowly losing his best friend pressed in the pit of his stomach.  If the situation couldn't be resolved, he would have no choice but to resign his position, leave the Cottage, and continue with the fight against the aliens as far away from Blackwood as possible… far away from one of the few people he called friend, and one of the few places he had ever called home.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"And you don't remember anything after going to your hotel room to take a nap?" Dr. Poe asked, sitting forward slightly in the wing-back chair.  A small fire snapped in the cozy living room and seemed to set Harrison more at ease, although he stared at the flames, refusing to make eye contact with her.

Blackwood forcefully shook his head.  "Nothing, there are impressions… half-feelings really…"  He trailed off, forehead creasing as he tried to find a way to explain the disjointed sights, sounds and emotions that passed like unconscious flotsam through his mind.  "There's just nothing concrete.  If it weren't for the bruises I'd think it was all a dream."

She reached out and patted the back of his hand.  Seated on the floor in front of her chair with his knees drawn up, Harrison looked for all the world like a small boy.

"I'd like to try a guided visualization."

Blackwood glanced up at her, his expression skittish, but nodded his assent.

"Good.  Where are you most comfortable?"

"Uh," he said, trying to remember, "here, I guess, or in my office."

She gestured toward the cream-colored couch.  "Then why don't we stay here.  Would you lie down, please?"

Harrison reached down and pulled his shoes off, then moved to stretch out along the sofa, folding his arms across his chest.

"That's no way to relax," Dr. Poe chided, walking over to take his wrists and reposition his arms along his body.  "I know you meditate, Harrison, so this will be very easy.  We're not going to do anything about the missing time just now.  All I want you to do is close your eyes and relax."  She waited as Blackwood's blue eyes shut and he drew in a deep breath, releasing it slowly.  When the small tension lines at the corners of his mouth disappeared, she smiled and nodded.  "Very good.  Now, I would like you to visualize a safe place, Harrison.  Somewhere you feel completely secure and comfortable.  It can be a real place, from the past or present, or some place you've created for yourself."

Walking over to the fireplace, she studied the model ship on the mantle for a moment, then returned to the chair.  "Have you found your safe place, Harrison?"

"Yes," he said quietly.

"Good.  Now, walk around and make sure everything is perfect.  Change anything you need to in order to ensure that it is perfectly safe, perfectly comfortable."

After a few moments he said, "Yes.  It is."

"Study every detail, Harrison.  Check every corner, window, door, everything. Be absolutely sure that you're safe."

She leaned back, waiting.  After several minutes she spoke again.  "Harrison, are you alone?"

"Yes," he replied, then added, "No… I— I'm not sure."

"Harrison, I'd like you to tell me where your safe place is, but only if you feel comfortable doing so.  I can't go there myself, you see, just talk to you while you're there."

"It's here, at the Cottage."

"The house itself?"

"Yes, my office, but it's not really my office."

"What's different about your office, Harrison?"

"It opens on the computer lab.  My office doesn't open on the lab."

"And who else is there?"

"No one," he replied.  "But…"

"Yes?"

"Norton and Suzanne.  I feel like they're close by, in their labs, working."

"Good.  You trust Norton and Suzanne, don't you?"

"Yes."

"If you found Norton or Suzanne in your safe place, that wouldn't frighten you, would it?"

"No."

"You're sure?"

"Yes," Blackwood said with conviction.  "It's alien-proof."

"Very good."  Leaning forward so she could watch his face, she continued.  "Go into the computer lab, Harrison."

"All right."

"Is the computer on?"

"Yes."

"Sit down in front of the screen.  When I say a word, you will see the image on the screen.  I want you to tell me the first thing that comes to mind when you see the image.  Remember, it is just an image on the computer, you have control over it.  You can turn it off if it frightens you.  The images cannot hurt you.  And you're in your safe place.  Norton and Suzanne are nearby, ready to help.  Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Let's begin…  Tree."

Harrison paused, then said, "Forest."

"State."

"California."

She continued with superficial pairings, saying "Family," when the replies came more quickly and easily.

Blackwood's eyes squeezed shut.  "Gone."

"Norton."

A slight grin lifted the corners of his mouth.  "Coffee."

"Suzanne."

"Debi."

"Debi."

"Horses."

"Ironhorse," she said.

"F-Friend," he struggled, his eyebrows pitching forward in confusion.

Not allowing him time to think about the hesitation she said, "Family."

"Gone."

"Harrison."

"Alone."

That was enough.  She returned to less meaningful nouns.  "Mountain."

"Peak."

"Red."

"Blue."

After a few more she nodded.  "Good, Harrison," she said soothingly.  "Now, I want you look at the screen and remember a happy time, a time when you were laughing and enjoying yourself completely.  You were not afraid, or sad, or angry, just happy.  Watch the scene unfold on the screen.  Feel the happiness.  I want you to let that feeling fill your safe place.  Only good feelings are filling up your safe place."  She waited.  "Good.  You will remember as much of this as you want to, Harrison.  It's time to come back.  Take a deep breath and I'll count to three.  When I reach three you'll be here, with me, in the Cottage relaxed and calm, feeling good… one… two… three."

Blackwood's eyes blinked open and he drew in a deep breath and stretched.  "I feel good."

"Why don't you take a nap, then we'll talk some more."

He nodded, the blue eyes falling closed.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse shook his head.  "I don't think that's a good idea, Doctor."

"Colonel, I can understand your reluctance, but the only way Harrison is going to get past this fear is to face it."

"He almost killed me.  He doesn't remember that, and I'm not sure what the consequences would be if he did."

Dr. Poe paused, letting the pacing soldier finally light on the edge of the wing-back chair.  He laced his fingers, one thumb running anxiously over the back of the other.

"Harrison is going to feel guilty, but he can live with that, Colonel.  This irrational fear is another matter.  He's withdrawn a portion of himself, walled it up out of reach.  If he learns to cover up the anxiety and stress that generates, and returns to his usual activities, sooner or later he will snap, and in all likelihood get himself and perhaps others killed."

"Doctor, I won't let that happen.  If it becomes necessary I can leave."

"That's not going to solve the problem, Colonel."  Dr. Poe leaned forward.  "In many ways this process affects both of you.  And it will take both of you to see it through.  You do not have to lose your friend."

Ironhorse dropped back against the chair.  "I hope you're right."

"I just need you to be present, and follow whatever leads I give you.  Together I believe we can get him back."

The colonel nodded, although the gesture was still reluctant.

"Good."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Are you ready, Harrison?"

Blackwood nodded slightly.  Stretched out along the couch, he was relaxed and comfortable.

"Good.  Today we're going to discover what happened to you while you were in New York."  Dr. Poe watched as Harrison's face pinched slightly.  "You will be completely safe.  You are in your safe place.  Nothing can hurt you there.  You are just going to watch what happened on the computer screen, all right?"

"Yes," the astrophysicist said, relaxing again.

"Very good.  Nothing bad can breach your safe place.  Now, I want you to look at the screen.  You are in New York, attending a secret meeting with scientists working on projects related to the aliens."

"Yes."

Dr. Poe stood and paced quietly along the couch.  "After a meeting with the geneticists you went to your room to take a nap."

"Yes," Harrison said softly.  "I missed my earlier nap and I was tired."

"I want you to watch the screen and tell me exactly what happened when you reached your room, Harrison."

Norton, Suzanne and Ironhorse arrived and she motioned them into the living room as Blackwood spoke.  She expected to use the two civilians, but the colonel was there just to listen.  She felt a pang of guilt in suggesting that Ironhorse would be involved more than he expected, but she wanted him to hear the entire thing.  It might help him understand that Harrison did trust him, despite all that had happened.

"Sergeant Coleman escorted me to my room and then checked it.  It was fine and she left.  I went to bed and slept."

"What happened next?"

"There was a sound.  I started to wake up, but I couldn't."

She paused, watching Blackwood's face for any sign of tension as she probed. "What kind of sound, Harrison?"

"A hissing sound, like a bunson burner when you first turn it on."

"What else, Harrison?"

"A mist," he said, his fingers twitching slightly.  "I felt a mist on my face.  I wanted to wipe it off, but I couldn't move."

"After you felt the mist, what happened?"

"There was a voice…  Quinn.  I recognized his voice.  It was Quinn.  I didn't want to go with him, but I wasn't awake and I couldn't stop myself."

"How did you get out of the hotel?" she asked, wondering if the colonel's assessment had been correct.

"The ventilation ducts.  Quinn took me into the guts of the building and then we were in the garage."

She nodded.  Ironhorse had been right on the money.  "And where did you go once you left the hotel?"

"We drove away, but I don't know where," Harrison said, his forehead wrinkling.  "I was asleep, but I remember hearing the traffic noises."

"And did you wake up?"

"I— I don't know," Blackwood stammered, his shoulders lifting as the muscles tightened.

"Relax," Dr. Poe said, "you're in your safe place.  You're just watching this on the computer screen.  You're perfectly safe… now, tell me what you remember next."

"There was a building, an old building.  It was dark.  I was lost.  I wanted to run, but I couldn't.  Quinn took me inside, into a room."  Harrison sucked in a deep breath, causing the three Project members to jump.  "Quinn.  He's beating me up with that bracelet."

"Take a deep breath, Harrison," Dr. Poe instructed, her voice confident and relaxed.  "Quinn cannot hurt you in your safe place.  You are in control there.  Just watch the events on the computer screen.  After Quinn hits you, what happens next?"

"He, he forced me into a-a tub, a chamber.  It's full of water.  It's warm, but he's locking me in!"

As Blackwood's voice climbed, Dr. Poe stepped forward and leaned down, rubbing her fingers across his forehead.  She knew Harrison had done his own experimentation with sensory deprivation; that wasn't what was scaring him.  "Easy, Harrison.  You are safe, perfectly safe.  Quinn closes you into the tank.  What happens in the chamber?"

"I— I'm lost.  I'm not me.  I'm falling apart!"

She continued rubbing.  Loss of control, that was the key.  Harrison wasn't afraid of altered states of consciousness, but of losing control of himself.  "You're safe, Harrison," she repeated, "remember you are just watching.  The chamber was a sensory deprivation chamber.  Do you know what that means?"

She felt the tension begin to ease as he nodded slightly, saying, "Yes."

"You felt disconnected, lost and floating with no sense of physical self, is that right?"

Blackwood nodded, moisture beading on his eyelashes.  "Yes, I'm— I'm falling apart.  I can't find myself.  I—"

"Shh, Harrison.  You are in control now.  You are watching, just watching.  You lost a sense of your psychic self."

Another nod from the astrophysicist.  "I was gone… I was alone… falling, alone… pieces of me, everywhere… I can't find them."

"What happens next?"

"The warships came.  They're after me.  They killed my parents.  They're chasing me—"

"But they cannot hurt you."

"They're coming!"  Blackwood's voice climbed to a near wail.  "They can see me! All of me!"

"Harrison," Dr. Poe said, cupping the scientist's face in her hands again.  "The warships cannot hurt you in your safe place.  I want you to let the images of the warships pass, they disappear like the fog along the beach.  Gone, all gone.  What is the next thing you see?"

Blackwood panted several times before he could stammer out, "Ironhorse."

"Tell me what Colonel Ironhorse is doing."

"He's killing me!" Harrison yelled, his voice climbing steadily as he continued, "I'm on fire!  I'm burning.  He won't help me.  He's the enemy.  He wants to kill me. He wants me to burn.  No!  I'll kill him.  I'll kill him!"

"Harrison!" Dr. Poe said sharply, giving Blackwood's shoulders a sharp shake as she did.  "The images are gone.  All gone.  You are safe and calm.  You are in your safe place."  She waited to see if he was listening to her.  "The images are gone.  You are safe, Harrison.  Look around your safe place.  You are safe."

Blackwood's head rolled back and forth while he caught his breath.  "He wants to kill me…"

"Harrison, I want you to sleep now.  A deep, restful sleep, with no dreams."

"I'm tired," he half-moaned.

"Yes, you are tired.  You will sleep now until I wake you up.  Deep, peaceful, dreamless sleep."  She watched as Blackwood's breathing leveled off and he slipped into the safe harbor of sleep.

Standing, she took a deep breath and let it fall out in an exhausted sigh.  "We have some more work to do.  Take a break, and we'll start again in an hour."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse stood at the window in Blackwood's office, staring out at the large pond that lay beyond the patio.  Now he understood why Harrison spent so much time at this window – it was peaceful, but not relaxing.  What had Quinn done to the man?  How could they get past those images?

He felt his fingers curl into fists and forced himself to relax.  Losing it now wouldn't help Harrison.

But how can he believe that? a part of his mind demanded. How can he think I'd let him die?

The door eased open and he heard Amelia enter the office.  "Colonel, I need your help."

Paul didn't bother to turn around.  "I don't think I'm the one you need, Doctor."

"Yes, oh, yes, you are," she said, walking over to sit in Harrison's chair.  "You're the only one who can get Harrison past this."

"Me?" he asked, glancing over his shoulder.  "He thinks I want to kill him."

"That's what Quinn has told him, but Harrison does not want to believe it.  I need you to tell me about a time when you had to trust Harrison with your life."

There was a short snort.  "Which one?"

"Anything associated with Quinn?"

Ironhorse nodded slowly.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

The three Project members settled themselves and watched as Dr. Poe pulled her chair up alongside the couch where Harrison still lay sleeping.  Reaching out, she took Blackwood's hand in hers, rubbing along the man's inner wrist with her thumb. "Harrison, I want you listen to me.  We're going back in time again… further back… back to when you first met Quinn.  Do you remember that time, Harrison?"[5]

"Yes," was the mumbled, sleepy reply.

"Tell me, Harrison, why did Quinn want to meet you?"

There was a brief pause before he explained, "He wanted me to talk to the United Nations Security Council.  He wanted me to talk them into genocide."

"Quinn was not your friend, was he, Harrison?"

"No.  He wants to rule the planet."

"Who came looking for you, Harrison?" Dr. Poe asked, still rubbing the man's hand.

The reply was a soft whisper.  "Ironhorse."

"Colonel Ironhorse came looking for you.  And did he find you?"

"Yes."

"Tell me what happened."

Harrison's lips lifted briefly.  "He told me not to turn around…  He had a gun… He thought I was an alien."

"Did he?" she asked, her gaze flickering up momentarily to meet Paul's.

There was a pause while the scene played itself out in Blackwood's mind.  "No.  No, he knew it was me…  He knew."

"How did you feel, Harrison, when you heard Ironhorse there behind you?"

"Safe and—"

"And?"

"And a little scared.  I wasn't sure he'd know it was really me… but when I turned around and saw his eyes…"

"What did his eyes say, Harrison?"

"He was scared, too.  He was afraid I wasn't me."

"He was afraid of having lost his friend."

Blackwood nodded and whispered, "Yes."

"Paul Ironhorse is your friend, isn't he?"

"Yes," Harrison breathed.

Dr. Poe smiled.  "Good.  Now, Harrison, I want you to go back to your safe place, and sit down at the computer.  Are you there?"

"Yes."

"On the computer screen you can see the warehouse, the warehouse where Quinn took you, where you saw the alien warships."

"No," he moaned.  "I don't like it there."  His fingers curled tightly around hers.

"I know you don't like the warehouse, but you're just watching.  You're sitting safe in your safe place.  The warehouse exists only on the screen.  The warship comes, looking for you.  Tell me, what happens next?"

"I'm… I'm on fire!"

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

After two hours, Dr. Poe and the Project members had the complete scenario that Quinn had used to program Blackwood.  Suzanne looked appalled.  Norton glared angrily at the snapping fire in the fireplace.  Amelia guessed Drake was mentally calculating what he'd like to do to Quinn.  Ironhorse, on the other hand, sat with an emotionally neutral expression firmly fixed on his face, whatever he felt a mystery to them all.

In most cases she would have stopped to let them all rest, but given Harrison's uncanny ability to retreat from himself, she continued.

"Harrison," she said.  "The images of the warships and the colonel were all manufactured by Quinn using the chamber and drugs, you know that, don't you?"

"Yes," Blackwood said, but wasn't as convincing as she'd hoped.

"After the last time you were in the chamber, what happened then?"

"I got dressed.  Then I walked into the building.  The warships are out there." Blackwood's hands squeezed into fists.  "I'm– I'm holding a gun.  I don't like guns, but  I can't let go."

"You can't let go of the gun," Dr. Poe said, easing him past the agitation possession of the weapon caused.  "What do you do next?"

"There's a sound."  Blackwood's face paled slightly.  "Ironhorse.  I have to kill him.  He'll let the warships kill me.  He's the enemy!"

"Remember the U.N., Harrison.  Remember the look in Ironhorse's eyes.  He is your friend.  Who told you he was your enemy?"

"But—"  Blackwood broke off, shaking his head.

"Watch the screen, Harrison.  You are safe.  What else is there, Harrison?  What else are you seeing?"

"Ironhorse.  He's my friend.  He's helping me… but he won't let me go!  The warships are coming.  He's my friend."

"Harrison, I want you to listen to me.  Listen," she said, reaching out to cup his face.  "You are seeing two sets of images.  I want you to ignore the images from the chamber, ignore the images Quinn manufactured, and concentrate on the other images.  Focus.  What are the other images?"

"They're— They're— Paul's my friend, he's helping me."

"Yes, he's helping you, just like he did at the United Nations building.  He is afraid for you.  You see the images, and Colonel Ironhorse is there with you, in the warehouse. He's worried about you.  He's helping you to escape.  What happens next, Harrison?"

"I— I hurt him.  The soldiers, they stopped me.  I— I wanted to kill him… my friend.  I wanted to kill my friend.  That's—  That's all I remember.  I woke up in the hospital."

"Very good, Harrison."  Dr. Poe began rubbing Blackwood's forehead again.  "Now, I want you to turn off the computer.  The images are all gone.  They can't hurt you.  Is the computer off?"

"Yes."

"Very good.  Look around the lab.  Norton and Suzanne are there, working like they usually do.  Do you see them?"

"Yes."

She motioned for the two Project members to move closer.  "And you're not afraid."

"No, I'm not afraid."

"Norton and Suzanne are here, helping you.  They are your friends, your family."

"Yes."

Dr. Poe pointed to Blackwood's arm and Suzanne moved closer, reaching out and squeezing gently.  "Harrison?"

A small smile split Blackwood's face.  "Suzanne."

"Hi, Doc," Norton said, patting Harrison's leg.

"Norton."

"Norton and Suzanne are there with you.  Everything is safe.  Now, I want you to leave Norton and Suzanne in the lab and go back into your office, your most secure safe place.  Are you there?"

"Yes."

"Who told you about the warships, Harrison?"

"Quinn."

"Who told you Colonel Ironhorse wanted to hurt you?"

"Quinn."

"Good.  Quinn created the images of the warships.  He created the images of Ironhorse hurting you.  They were all a lie, isn't that right?"

"Yes.  Quinn lied to me."

"Good.  Now, I want you to look out into the lab.  The elevator is opening, and Colonel Ironhorse is getting out."  Harrison's face tightened.  "Colonel Ironhorse is in the lab, only in the lab.  He cannot come into your safe place unless you invite him in."

Blackwood's tension faded.

"Concentrate on Colonel Ironhorse," Dr. Poe instructed.  "He's there, in the lab.  What is Colonel Ironhorse, Harrison?"

"He's, he's my friend."

"Yes, he is your friend.  What else is he?"

"He— He—"  Blackwood's shoulders pinched up, his head starting to shake.  "He's my enemy!"

"Harrison, look," Dr. Poe said sternly, the tone freezing the man.  "Look closely.  Is Colonel Ironhorse your enemy?  Is he?"

There was a slight pause before Blackwood blurted out, "No!  Quinn made me feel that.  It's Quinn's fault.  Quinn's my enemy!"

Dr. Poe smiled.  "Yes.  Quinn is your enemy.  And Colonel Ironhorse?"

"He's my friend," Harrison breathed.  "He's my best friend."

"Do you trust him to come into your safe place?" Amelia asked.

"Yes," Harrison said, a weary, crooked smile twitching onto his face.  "Yes, I do."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse released the breath he'd been holding in a soft sigh of relief.  She's done it.  I'm not the enemy any more.  He looked down at his fingers, still curled tightly into fists and mentally pried them open.  Staring into his waxy white palms he fought back the hatred he felt for Quinn and the aliens.

Working the cramped fingers, he silently promised Harrison that Quinn would pay for what he'd put the man through.  One way or another, Ironhorse swore silently.  One way or another, I'll kill him myself.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"Good morning, how are you feeling?" Dr. Poe asked as she joined Harrison on the patio.  The astrophysicist had been staring across the Cottage grounds while methodically rotating a glass of orange juice on the table.

Harrison nodded, his gaze shifting to stare at the glass.

"Any more nightmares?"

"No, none."

She sat down and poured herself a glass of juice.  "But you're feeling guilty."

The tousled mop of curly brown hair rose as he looked up at her.  "You certainly earn your salary."

Dr. Poe smiled.  "That's why I get the 'big bucks,' as they say."

Harrison smiled thinly.

"You know that you had no control over the programming.  The drugs took that all away.  You know that it was Quinn, not you, who was behind the feeling of hatred and fear directed at Colonel Ironhorse."

"Yes, I know, but–"

"Your heart hasn't been able to accept that."

"No," he admitted, his gaze returning to the glass.  "No, I guess it hasn't."

"Colonel Ironhorse means a great many things to you, doesn't he?"

"Things?"

"He is your protector, and you are a little angry since he failed to protect you from Quinn, just like your parents weren't able to protect you from the aliens in 1953."

A blush settled firmly onto Harrison's cheeks.  "You're reading my mind."

"Harrison," she said, reaching out to rest one hand on top of his.  "It is natural for you to feel anger and guilt.  The human mind is a complex thing.  We think we know ourselves, but that understanding is elusive.  We're ambiguous creatures.  You are angry at the Colonel, and guilty for attacking him after he risked his life to rescue you.  You think of him as a brother, and a father, but he is neither. He is your friend, however."

"I know that," Blackwood said, leaning back in his chair.  "This whole situation… I feel like a child.  I'm afraid, and mad, and I don't want to be left alone again.  Paul Ironhorse is more than a friend."

"Talk to him, Harrison."

"I can't."

"Why?"

"Not until I understand all of these feelings."

Standing, Dr. Poe stepped up to Blackwood and patted his shoulder.  "Don't think too much; it obscures the feelings, and those, in the end, are all we have to go on sometimes.  Simple things can take on a life of their own.  Talk to him; the words will come."

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

Ironhorse slowed his run, his attention focusing on Blackwood, who sat on one of the small hills overlooking the coastline.  He looked like he was waiting.

Reaching the reclining scientist, Ironhorse stopped.

"You're early," Harrison commented.

Ironhorse checked his watch.  He was about a minute ahead of his usual pace.  "Guess the inactivity is wearing on me," he replied.

Blackwood levered to his feet.  "Mind if I join you?"

"Not at all, Doctor," Paul said, starting off at a slow jog.  After several strides, Ironhorse kept his eyes firmly locked on the trail and asked, "How're you doing?"

"Better," was the vague reply.

Ironhorse slowed to a walk.  "Harrison, it's over.  We won another round."

Blackwood shook his head.  "It's not that easy, Colonel.  God, I wish it were."

The two men continued along the sandy beach until they reached the point where the jogging path turned back toward the Cottage and Blackwood stopped.  "I'm—"  He started, but faltered to a halt.

"What's wrong?" Ironhorse probed.

"I'm sorry."  He turned to face the soldier.  "I'm sorry about what happened; that I let myself be turned so easily."

Ironhorse shook his head.

"What?"

"Harrison, sometimes I think you think you're God."

"What?" the astrophysicist snapped, drawing himself up in budding anger.

"That's the impression I get when you insist on taking the blame for things you have absolutely no control over."

Blackwood's eyes narrowed.  "Look, all I mean is I should've known better than to think–"

"You did know better," Ironhorse interrupted.  "But that has nothing to do with the fact that you were drugged and brainwashed.  That was outside your control.  But, if you hadn't known better, you would've shot me in that warehouse."

Lips pressing together in frustration, Blackwood strode away several steps, then turned and stomped back.  "Okay, so maybe I didn't have any control over what Quinn did to me, but, damn it, I'm ashamed of myself.  There!  I said it.  Are you happy?"

"No, but I can understand why you feel that way," Paul said, his voice dropping.  "I've had similar feelings. It just shows that we're human, Harrison.  We all have our fears, our monsters hiding in closets in our heads, and they can be used against us.  But you beat it.  You faced the monsters.  And in this case they are real."

"I guess I just feel that I should've been stronger."

"Don't buy into that 'real men don't feel fear' crap," Ironhorse cautioned.  "It's a crock.  I know."

Blackwood grinned slightly.  "Why do I think there's a story behind that, Colonel?"

A lopsided grin matched Blackwood's.  "Several."

"Maybe you'll tell me?"

"Maybe," was Ironhorse's evasive reply, "someday, when we're both very tired, or very drunk – so I'll have an excuse."

Harrison chuckled and clapped Paul's back.  "That's my Colonel," he said. "Brave, forthright… and easily embarrassed."

Ironhorse drew himself up.  "I am not easily embarrassed, Doctor.  Besides, you should talk."

"Me?"

"Yes, you."  Without waiting for Blackwood to launch into the next round, Ironhorse sprinted off, the scientist trailing.

"Hey, wait a minute!  We're not finished!"

"We are unless you can catch up, Mister!"

Harrison sucked in a deep breath and picked up speed.

 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

 

"I have to tell you, I'm sorry to see you go," Harrison said, walking Dr. Poe out to the Bronco.

"You're doing fine," she said, accepting and giving the scientist a hug.  "Call me if you want to.  General Wilson can usually find me."

"I will," he told her.  "And thank you.  You gave me back a part of myself."

She shook her head.  "No, you had it all along, I just reintroduced you to it.  Don't hide from your fears, Harrison.  And don't hide from the fears of the little boy you once were."

"I'll try."

"You have good friends, good family, here.  They will help you, if you ask them."

Blackwood nodded.

Ironhorse walked up to join them.  "Ready?" he asked.

"Yes," Amelia said with a smile.  "And good luck, to all of you."

Ironhorse opened the passenger-side door and she climbed in.  He walked around and slid in behind the wheel.  "I have the mobile if anything comes up," he told Blackwood.

"Right."  Harrison patted the hood of the truck.  "Thank you again, Amelia."

Dr. Poe waved as the Colonel backed up and headed off down the drive.  Harrison Blackwood would be fine.  He had a strong ego and equally strong friends who cared about him.  She glanced at Ironhorse.  The Colonel would be fine as well, but she wondered about the covert war they were fighting.  Would they win?  She decided a positive reply was the only sane answer; anything else was a death sentence.

 

…I'm shattered, into fragments cold and gray,

sweep the pieces all away, then no one will ever know how much it mattered.

Something deep inside of me… shattered[6]

 



[1]  "Shattered," by Linda Ronstadt, from her album Howl Like the Rainstorm, Cry Like the Wind.

[2]  Equalizer episode "Splinters."

[3]  War of the Worlds episode "The Prodigal Son."

[4]  "Within the Sound of My Voice," by Cinda Gillilan in Black Magic #1.

[5]  "The Prodigal Son," episode of War of the Worlds.

[6]  "Shattered," by Linda Ronstadt, from her album Howl Like the Rainstorm, Cry Like the Wind.