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Appearances/Secrets by KarenK


By KarenK

An Earth Final Conflict/War of the Worlds fanfic

Status: unfinished

Webmistress's note: Thanks to Wain for beta-reading this for me.


Zo'or and Da'an were discussing the day's appointments when a commotion drew their attention. Into the room strode a young woman who was apparently quite angry. Sandoval took in her chestnut hair and hazel eyes flashing with anger. He also took in her blue teddy bear T-shirt, faded blue jeans, and scuffed sneakers, and stepped into her path only to find himself tossed aside as if he were a rag doll.

"Out of my way, Puppet Boy!" she snarled at him. She came up to Da'an and tossed at him a folder full of papers. "If you think you're going to get me to work on your project by pulling my grants, you're wrong!" she said angrily.

"Dr. Blackwood, I assure you I have no idea of what you're talking about," responded a confused Da'an.

"Oh, really! Well I've told you once, and now I'm telling you for the final time, I don't work on Taelon projects."

"The Resistance . . . " began Zo'or.

"Don't stick me in with those children! I don't help the Taelons, and I don't help the Resistance! I'm neutral, like Switzerland."

Sandoval took in this woman, who was barely five foot five and, if lucky, a hundred pounds soaking wet, waving her finger in Zo'or's face like a mother disciplining a child.

"I know we humans can get along just fine without the Taelons, but you Taelons are doomed without us. We humans may be doomed with you, though.

"I don't know if your being too lazy or being cowards is the reason that you can't fight your own battles. You start them; at least have the decency to finish them. We humans do. You're like the Power Rangers' Rita. She kept sending monsters against them that got defeated. She'd make them grow and send them back against the Rangers only to see them defeated again. The only thing that changed week after week were the monsters, and Rita still lost to the Rangers.

"How many species have you destroyed in your attempt to create a warrior to defeat the Jaradians instead of putting your resources to better use? For a supposedly advanced species, you're kind of dumb in figuring out that the alter-species you have fighting for you isn't working and maybe you should try something else.

"Why is it that you aliens land on this planet and go around saying the planet's a garbage heap, and the natives are primitive and beneath you, yet you don't leave a planet that obviously causes you such distress?" she asked with a frustrated sigh. She blew a strand of hair out her face and then ran her hand through her hair as she moved the sweaty strands of hair from her eyes and back onto her head.

"We've survived you aliens before, and we'll survive you again. Aliens come and go but, if you noticed, humans are still here. Da'an, I don't respond well to blackmail and would appreciate your returning my grants before things get ugly."

She spun on her heel and headed for the doorway, only to bump into Major Liam Kincaid, Da'an's Protector. "Watch it, Stretch!" she complained.

"Major Liam Kincaid, I'd like you to met Dr. Karen Blackwood of the Pacific Institute of Technology." Da'an introduced them.

"Pleasure to . . . " Liam began.

"I'm not here for a tea social. You have my terms, Da'an. Now if you don't mind, I have work to return to."

Liam smiled and moved out of her way. "That's a whirlwind and a half, Da'an," said Liam.

"Yes, Liam, she is known to be rather difficult but also very brilliant."

"Very rude is more like it," said Sandoval.

"Agent Sandoval, Dr. Blackwood is not one to suffer fools gladly. It would be best to stay out of her way until she calms down," said Da'an.

Liam knocked on the door to Karen Blackwood's office, and she looked up. "What do you want?" she asked sarcastically.

"Da'an wanted . . . " he started.

"What to threaten me to join his project? Well tell him you tried, but I don't scare easily," she responded.

"He sent me to tell you he saw to your grant restorations," answered Liam.

"Since he took them away, he should see to their return," she replied.

After a few moments of silence, she looked up and met Liam's eyes. "Well, you've delivered your message like a good little slave. Now, what more do you want?" she asked.

"You have a very low opinion of Companion Protectors, Doctor," said Liam.

"Don't flatter yourself. I have a very low opinion of humanity period," she replied.

"A beautiful young woman . . . " he began.

"Kincaid, was it? Save the blarney for someone who gives a damn, because I don't. Humanity sits back and lets Taelon technology be adapted to their needs instead of bothering to think for themselves. Doesn't give me much to have a high opinion of, and now, as I told you, I'm very busy and would appreciate it if you'd leave." Karen showed him to the door and before he could respond, she slammed the door in his face.

Joshua Doors paced as he thought through the option that Renee Palmer had put on the table.

"Joshua, she's a fine scientist and brilliant beyond anyone currently working at Doors," said Renee.

"Do you believe Karen Blackwood would accept a position here?" he asked.

"You may have to do some cajoling but yes, given the right incentive . . ." Renee trailed off.

"The right incentive being?" asked Joshua. "

Well I know it's not money, men, power, or fame, so I assume if we gave her access to our labs for her projects, she just might be willing to work on our projects in exchange," said Renee.

Karen walked over to her window and watched as Liam left. She sighed and turned back and sat down at her desk. She picked up a photo of a handsome man with black hair just beginning to gray and warm chocolate eyes, who stared back from the picture with a serious expression.

"What was it all for, Paul?" she sighed. Colonel Paul Ironhorse had swept into her life when she was twenty-one years old and fresh out of college. Her father, Harrison Blackwood, had set off with a colleague of his, Dr. Suzanne McCullough, to follow alien transmissions and came across a roadblock manned by Ironhorse's men. They had done their best to one-up each other but in the end, Ironhorse had agreed to allow the Blackwoods and Suzanne McCullough past the barrier.

After that a trip, Suzanne's uncle, General Henry Wilson, had started the Blackwood Project. Officially, it was to be an anti-terrorist team but in reality, the only terrorists they dealt with were the ones who'd come to Earth from the planet Morthai. They'd fought and lost loved ones in a three-year battle against aliens. October 15, 1988, until May 30, 1990, they fought in secret without anyone knowing that an invasion from space was occurring. Paul had sacrificed himself to save the team, even though that night they'd lost two of their best in Paul Ironhorse, their security chief, and Norton Drake, their communications and computers expert.

She smiled at the memories of the young black man, Norton Drake, doing his best to aggravate Paul for the fun of it. Suzanne's daughter Debi had been eleven at the time and had grown quite attached to Ironhorse. When he died, she'd become catatonic for a period of time.

Karen had hoped the Taelons were different, but she was really beginning to doubt it. She stood and looked at herself in the mirror, disgusted by what she saw. She hadn't changed one iota from what she looked like twelve years ago, and it was all thanks to those damned aliens!

The door opened, and she spun to see an ethereal looking young woman with silver blonde hair and pale blue eyes enter with her arms full of books. "Here, Debi, let me help," she offered, and Debi smiled thanks at her. They managed to settle the books on her desk, and Debi plopped down in a chair with an exaggerated flourish to announce she was exhausted. Karen smiled at the young woman who'd become like a little sister-daughter combination to her. She couldn't, no matter what, get involved with the Taelons because the aliens had done enough damage, especially to Debi.

Liam watched in appreciation as Karen Blackwood worked through a kata with the grace that spoke of many years' practice. He liked what he saw, but then he'd liked what he had seen from the minute he'd met her.

"Doctor Blackwood?" called Sandoval. She gave him a brief look of disgust and ignored him as well as Liam, Da'an, and Zo'or.

"Dr. Blackwood?" said Sandoval, a little louder.

"I'm not deaf, Sandy, just ignoring you," she answered sarcastically. "

Dr. Blackwood . . . " Sandoval began as he took hold of her wrist and promptly found himself flat on the ground with her straddling his chest.

"You do like to take chances, don't you, Sandy my boy?" she cooed almost seductively at him, but her eyes terrified Sandoval with their absence of life. She stood and helped Sandoval up; he rubbed his arm as he reassessed this tiny terror.

"My apologies for interrupting, Doctor . . . " Da'an began.

"That's what you do best--interrupt, interrupt the natural evolution of a species, interrupt a life, and interrupt me in my only free time to relax. If it's about the project, no, I'm still not interested," she said.

"Would you prefer working for Doors International?" offered Zo'or.

"Your front man, you mean, and no, because everybody knows Doors has been bought and sold by the Taelons," she replied.

"Funny, I don't feel bought," joked Joshua as he joined them.

"Funny boy! Well, we have pushy boy, so why not? And what about you, Kincaid? Silly boy, perhaps, or maybe boy toy?" she teased.

"Dr. Blackwood . . . " he started.

"If you're going to keep following me around like a stray, you might as well call me Caddy. My friends call me Caddy, but I guess it's all right for you as well," Karen told him.

Liam followed her as she headed back to the building.

"Da'an, what is so important about me that you need me on this project?" she asked.

He handed her his proposal, and she read through with a speed that astonished those present. She frowned and looked over at Da'an. "If, and I'm saying, 'if', I do this, there are certain terms that must be put in place before I go near a lab."

Da'an nodded his agreement, and Karen led them into her office. A pretty blonde of about twenty looked up and smiled as she saw Karen, Liam, and the others, but the minute she saw Da'an and Zo'or, she whimpered and backed up as her eyes widened with terror. Karen rushed over to her and spoke quietly to her, calming her down. She rose and headed for the door giving Liam, Sandoval, and Joshua a shy smile, but Da'an and Zo'or got wide berth and a look of ultimate terror.

"My sister Debi. I sent her to lunch. Please have a seat."

"So you do have manners," said Sandoval.

"Just for you, cute boy. You ought to smile more. You're a gorgeous fella, but the smile really brings out your good looks." Sandoval cleared his throat "Oh, how sweet! The big, bad Companion Protector is blushing," she teased.

"Your family?" said Liam, picking up a photo in an attempt to save Sandoval from this outspoken woman.

"They were," she said with a steel edge to her voice, and her eyes went empty again.

Liam surveyed her desk and saw other photos. The one he held had a black man in a wheel chair with a blonde haired, hazel-eyed woman sitting next to him. On her lap was a girl of about eleven, but he could tell it was Debi. Behind them stood four men. One was about six feet, three inches, with messy curly brown hair and intelligent blue eyes that peered out from behind steel-rimmed glasses. The one next to him had shaggy brown hair, brown eyes, and a cocky expression. Next to him stood a soldier if Liam had ever seen one. He was tall with black hair that had a hint of gray, strong brown eyes, and a West Point sweatshirt. Next to him stood a man who had brown hair and blue eyes and also stood like a soldier. Karen herself sat at the foot of the wheelchair and made a face at the camera. She looked so young and sweet. He looked at the other photos and noticed one with the man who wore the West Point sweatshirt holding Karen in a way that suggested intimacy of the romantic variety.

Karen quickly laid down her rules for Da'an, and he agreed to every one because he was so pleased to have her. They soon left to attend to other matters, but Liam's mind never strayed far from Karen Blackwood.

"Augur, I need your help," said Liam.

"What else is new?" said Augur.

"What can you find me on a Dr. Karen Blackwood?" he asked.

"Ah, Da'an's new playmate." Augur went to work, and Liam went over to the couch to stay out of the mad genius' way.

"Bingo!" yelled Augur. "I have a Karen Blackwood, born in Buffalo, New York, March 5, 1967," said Augur.

"Augur, that would make her forty-three, and the woman I saw couldn't have been older then twenty-five," said Liam.

"Well, then she's one hot forty-three-year-old," said Augur mischievously.

Liam looked at the picture, and it was the right woman. But how was it possible for her to be forty-three?

"Who's this?" Liam pointed to the man in the photo with her.

"Colonel Paul Richard Ironhorse, career Army." Augur whistled. "This guy doesn't have enough chest to display all the honors he's gotten. Born on the Blackfoot reservation in Montana. Orphaned and lost a brother in an accident. He was raised by his grandparents before becoming a bronze medal winner in the '68 Olympics and headed off to West Point, where he graduated at the top of his class. He was a Vietnam War hero. He was reported dead in San Francisco, California, in October, 1989. He was part of the Blackwood project," replied Augur.

"Who else was part of this Blackwood Project?" asked Liam.

"Dr. Harrison Jared Blackwood, son of Dr. James and Dr. Claire Blackwood." Augur brought up a picture of the curly haired man. "Orphaned at six and adopted by his father's colleague, Dr. Clayton Forester, who was married to Sylvia Van Buren. Sylvia was a distant cousin of General Henry Wilson, who greenlighted the Blackwood project. His brother was also the father to Dr. Suzanne McCullough, biogeneticist and psychologist." Augur brought up a picture of the pretty blonde with hazel eyes. "Her father died when she was ten, and her mother and stepfather were killed in 1990. She's divorced and the mother of Debi McCullough." Augur brought up the picture of the pretty young girl Liam had met in Karen's office.

"Next come the Kincaid brothers." Augur grinned mischievously up at Liam. "Major Max Kincaid, reported killed in an accident in May 1990 outside San Francisco." He pointed to the taller one in the picture. "This fella is his younger brother John. A lieutenant in the Army until he was almost court-martialed. Max intervened on his behalf as well as at the schools that Max sent John to. John was repeatedly suspended until they finally expelled him. After a number of schools, Max got him in and then later out of the Army before they sent him to Leavenworth. A real troublemaker from the looks of his records. Max tried his best to raise John after their parents' death, but apparently John was uncontrollable." Liam looked at John Kincaid's cocky grin and shaggy head of brown hair and had no doubts about that.

Next came the picture of the young black man in the wheel chair. "Norton Drake, communications and computers, was reported killed in the same accident that took Ironhorse's life, but the hospital report says the injuries were more consistent with an explosion rather than a fire. Not to mention the two bullets in Drake's chest and the one in Ironhorse's skull. Apparently, any attempts to follow up were derailed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Shortly thereafter, the bodies were removed for burial, and--get this--they came for the bodies at 1 a.m."

Augur sounded eager now at the possibility of a cover up. "What's even more interesting is that if this was an anti-terrorist team, why was the leader an astrophysicist? What do the stars have to do with terrorists?" asked Augur.

"I wish I knew. Can you find out anything more about the project?" Liam asked.

Augur whistled. "The security around this project's records is so tight that not even Thompson could look at it without four signatures." Liam sat back, stunned by Augur's revelations. What could be that important that they had such tight security?

Amused, Liam watched as Karen Blackwood strode through the Doors lab giving orders like a drill sergeant, and the young man with her was scribbling furiously as he nodded to her. She finally came back around and saw Liam, and he could have sworn that for a brief moment her eyes showed pleasure at his presence.

"What are you doing here, Stretch, making sure I don't back out on my deal with the devil?" she asked.

"Not really. I was sort of hoping you'd have dinner with me tonight?" he asked.

"Da'an wants . . . " she began.

"No! Pleasure, not business. Just you and I getting to know each other."

Karen looked stricken and then quickly recovered. "I can't tell you something I don't know," she said hastily as she turned away.

"Why don't you tell me about Paul Ironhorse?" he asked.

She turned on him with a look of fury, "What the hell did you do? Run a jacket on me?" Karen hissed.

"A friend found out some information for me on a lady that intrigued me," Liam answered quietly.

"I'm no lady," she replied and grabbed her jacket before starting out of the lab.

Even though she was walking, Liam was hard pressed to keep up with her. In fact, he lost sight of her and finally decided to check the parking lot. What he saw surprised him. In the parking lot, up against a wall, a huge black panther was toying with a young man. The young man stabbed the panther with his knife, and the panther let out a snarl of pain. Liam turned to shout a warning to the security guard and when he looked back, both boy and panther were gone. He noticed Karen over by a building and hurried over to see if he could help. When he came up to her, he noticed she looked pale. He rushed over and laid a hand on her left shoulder; she let out a hiss of pain. Liam realized why when he felt warm stickiness under his hand.

"We'll get you to a hospital," he told her.

"No!" she said a little too quickly, and Liam frowned in confusion.

"Anywhere but a hospital," she said through clenched teeth.

Liam didn't argue but took her to his place and sat her down on the couch. She stripped off her blouse and began to check her wound without any regard for Liam's presence.

"I'll . . . um . . . I'll go get the bandages." He hurried from the room.

When Liam returned, she took the damp cloth from him and cleaned the wound. Liam was puzzled by the look of the stab wound. When he'd gone to get the bandages it was a deep cut, and now it appeared to be just a scratch.

"Your wound . . . " he began.

"Just a scratch. Nothing to worry about," she responded. That's when Liam noticed something that shook him--she was wearing a necklace that looked just like the collar the panther had been wearing.

"Where'd you get . . . " he reached for the necklace, and she grabbed his wrist and forced it down, causing him great pain. He hissed through clenched teeth and looked up only to gasp at what he saw. Before him sat a woman who radiated energy; her hazel eyes had turned to pure silver. The whole eye was silver, and her hair ruffled as if a wind blew it, even though there was no breeze in the room.

She reached over and kissed his lips so gently that it almost made him cry. Karen released his wrist, and he looked up to see that her eyes had returned to normal.

"What was that?" he asked, stunned by what he'd just witnessed.

"What?" she looked at him as she slid her arms into the sleeves of her blouse. He didn't know what to say and stood stunned as she rose, patted his cheek, and headed out of the door.

"Liam!" called Augur as Liam entered the hacker's lair. He waved Liam over to him and smiled like a kid in a candy store.

"October 15, 1988, the Blackwood Project was created and titled an anti-terrorist team, but it only dealt with one kind of terrorist. The kind from outer space," he said enthusiastically. "A species called the Morthai came to earth in 1953, but there are mentions of visits in 1938 and earlier, some as early as six hundred years ago! They tried to take over Earth and were defeated because their systems couldn't handle a microbe in our atmosphere. They were stuck in cans and dumped in a nuclear waste dumpsite until 1988.

"A real terrorist group took over the site, not realizing that the radiation from the site had seeped into the cans and revived the aliens. They soon regretted their takeover, because they were the first to be . . . best as I can put it, absorbed."

Liam sat, stunned at what he was being told.

"They set up an outpost to destroy humanity and take over Earth. Blackwood knew that, because they were what killed his parents in 1953 when he was six. Clayton Forester was one of the main researchers until he brought up the possibility that the aliens weren't dead but more likely in a coma. Ironhorse was there to deal with human terrorists but found no one, and Harrison Blackwood was the one who filled in the pieces.

"Karen Blackwood was originally born to Michael and Margaret Briggs, and when she was orphaned in 1969 Blackwood adopted her. Most of the records were destroyed. A few remain, allowing me to piece together what happened. Ironhorse took the project members to the Cottage, a government safe house, and he acted as security chief and did raids on alien strongholds with the help of Omega Squads One and Two.

"There were three bodies found in the rubble of the Cottage in 1989. The explosion wasn't a gas leak like the official report says but was caused by C-4 explosives, a bomb! One body was identified as Norton Drake, but the two other bodies both came up with an ID of Paul Ironhorse, even though thorough testing was done. Liam, both bodies were identified as Ironhorse's!"

"A clone?" said Liam almost in a whisper.

"Apparently so. Drake was killed by two shots to the chest, but Ironhorse died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. The other Ironhorse shows all the trauma of having been shot in the head, but there weren't entry or exit wounds. The second Ironhorse had injuries from being shot, but was never shot!" said Augur.

Sandoval watched as Karen stared out the window. "Should I change your name to Creepy Boy?" she asked playfully, and Sandoval wondered how she knew he was there.

"Liam's not here, if you're wondering." Sandoval noticed the blood stain on her shoulder. She stared at it and then back at him, "Some stains are just hard to get out," she teased.

The blouse was fairly new, so the injury had to have occurred recently; yet with the amount of blood on her blouse, he thought she'd still be in the hospital.

"What did you need, Agent Sandoval?" she asked coldly.

"I was wondering what changed your mind about the project?" he asked.

"The good of humanity, what else, Sandoval?" she replied in a tone that assured him it had nothing to do with humanity.

"Da'an is a very important Taelon, and as a Companion Protector, it is my duty to see to his safety," he said.

"Funny, but I thought Kincaid was his protector and you protected Zo'or. Why are you really here, Agent Sandoval?" she asked.

He loosened his tie, as it suddenly felt too hot in the room. Her eyes bore into his like twin comets, and he felt he'd never be able to escape her. Sandoval licked his lips and cleared his throat.

"Doctor . . . " Joshua Doors said, and Sandoval suddenly felt the pressure release; he could breathe again. He looked at his watch and was surprised that an hour had passed. It had only seemed like a few minutes had gone by. What had happened?

"Zo'or is looking for you, Agent Sandoval," said Joshua.

"Thank you, Mr. Doors," he answered in a voice that sounded rusty and hurried out of the lab.

"Augur, I knew there was something weird about Karen Blackwood, but an alien fighter?" Liam couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Maybe this is why she turned down the Resistance requests to join them," said Augur.

"The Resistance asked her to join." Liam, who'd been getting up, sat down again. This was getting to be more then even a Human-Kimerian hybrid could deal with. This woman was forty-three years old and looked twenty. She'd fought and won against alien invaders! Not only won, but did so without alerting the world to the danger it was in!

"Liam, where are you going?" asked Augur.

"To get some answers from a certain lady," he snarled.

Karen sat on the floor and let her mind reach out into space. She'd been trying for some time but the August heat, which made her hair flat and wet against her face, made her lose her line of thought more then once. To be truthful, the heat wasn't the problem; Major Liam Kincaid was. Those eyes of his could cause any woman to overheat. She smiled saucily at the images that went through her mind.

"Stop it!'"she chided herself. Her mind shouldn't be on how Liam Kincaid looked naked, but on contact. She reached out again and found an answering voice in the stillness.

Daria! She sent waves of pleasure at Daria.

Hello, sister. Daria sent waves of pleasure back.

Its been a long time between conversations, sister. Anything interesting keeping you from contacting me? Karen could feel the smile Daria had to be wearing if her tone was any judge.

I've started a new project, and it may lead to the cure we're looking for, she answered.

Oh, wonderful! enthused Daria. Mara and the others miss you, she said.

I miss them, too. Send them my love, responded Karen.

She felt Daria's confusion when she asked, Who is Liam?

Damn and double damn! She was going to have to find a way to control her baser urges! He's the Companion Protector for a Taelon named Da'an who is working with me on the project. Da'an doesn't even know what his project could lead to and with hope, he'll never know, she responded.

Taelons are trouble, little sister, said Daria.

Don't I know it! answered Karen. She sat up straighter as she sensed someone coming. Daria, I have to go. Kincaid is coming, but I'll contact you later, she explained.

Be careful, sister. I feel your turmoil where Liam Kincaid is concerned, and his being a Companion Protector only makes it worse.

Karen agreed and said her good-byes. By the time Liam arrived at her office, she was seated behind her desk working at shrinking the pile of paper that had somehow found its way onto her desk.

"Doctor, I need you to explain a few things," said Liam.

"Interesting that you assume I can help you find answers to anything, Major," she responded.

Liam strode quickly over to her and roughly dragged her from her chair. "I'm tired of you playing with my mind," he hissed.

"You'd have to have one for me to play with it," she replied with fake sweetness.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, I'm back! Hee-hee!.

Sandoval flipped through the security check they had done on Karen Blackwood. She was a child prodigy but other than that, apparently unremarkable. She didn't even have outstanding parking tickets, and yet he knew something was off about her. Karen Blackwood seemed older than her years and yet at times childish. The word for her was unpredictable. If Sandoval didn't think she was extremely dangerous, she would be just his style.

Karen attempted to yank away from Liam and unbalanced them both. She could have righted herself easily enough due to the cat-like reflexes she had received from the experiments the Morthai had performed on her, but she wanted to see what Kincaid would do. She landed on the floor and let out a loud "oof" as Liam landed on her.

"We've got to stop meeting like this. People will start talking," Karen quipped.

Before he could he respond, she wrapped a hand around his neck and drew his head closer to her. She kissed him roughly and Liam, knowing he should back away, gave in instead. Karen curled her fingers in his hair, and then a hand moved down to his waist. She began to pull his shirt up.

Liam pulled back and grabbed her hand, "Whoa! Let's slow down a little bit, OK?" he said.

"I don't want to slow down; I like going fast. The faster, the better," she purred as she reached for his shirt again. Liam grabbed for her hands, and instead of stopping her, found himself tumbling backwards to the floor. She was all over him, kissing and caressing as if she couldn't get enough of him.

"Ahem!" They both looked up to see Sandoval, Da'an, and Zo'or in the doorway.

"I'm glad to see Da'an's Companion Protector is getting along so well with the scientist heading Da'an's new project." Sandoval grinned.

Karen dropped Liam's head and smiled seductively at Sandoval. "What's the matter, Sandy? Jealous? Don't worry, I'm sure to get around to you sometime soon," she purred as she rose and stepped over to Sandoval before stroking her hand along his cheek.

She spun on her heel and strode back to her desk, "Da'an, I'm not ready yet, but I'll let you know when I've wrapped things up here," she said, and Sandoval noted how her tone seemed all business where minutes before, it had almost been caressing him.

"I'm sure that will be fine, Dr. Blackwood," replied Da'an.

"If Major Kincaid can pull himself away, we need him," said Zo'or sarcastically.

Liam, who'd been hurriedly tucking his shirt back in, looked up and grinned sheepishly as he blushed. "Tsk, Major, can't you even dress yourself properly?" quipped Karen as she began to rebutton his shirt.

Liam, assaulted with memories of moments ago, found himself unable to move for fear of embarrassing himself.

Joshua put his feet up on a chair and leaned back to look out his office window. One good thing about being the boss was that no one could tell you to get to work. A knock sounded on his office door, and he sat up. "

Yes?" he called.

His office door cracked open, and his secretary popped her head in. "Josh, your investigator is here," said Marjorie.

"Send him in, beautiful, and get back to work or I won't hear a thing he says because I'll be distracted by your beauty," he teased.

"You need to drop some of that on my garden. It could use the fertilizer," she grinned as she shook her head.

She showed the investigator in and quietly closed the door behind her. Josh stood and shook hands with the man. "Jake, it's good to see you." Josh greeted Jake McDaniels.

"Good to see you too, Josh, especially since a paycheck is attached to it," McDaniels joked. "I looked into that Karen Blackwood for you. She has a record, juvenile but nothing after about seventeen. Your basic breaking windows, making out, drinking, wild-child-trying-to-find-my-identity stuff that most teenagers go through. Blackwood basically raised the kid to try whatever felt right, and she took him on that literally. I got the same from everyone, wild but decent. A good heart and a soft touch for a sob story."

Josh frowned. "She didn't seem to be a soft anything to me. Are we talking about the same woman here?" he asked.

"If she's five foot, four and a half, and a hundred pounds, with chestnut hair with gold highlights, and hazel eyes or, as the men put it, the face of an angel or elf with the body of a goddess then, yep, we're talking about the same person," answered Jake. "I checked out every lead and, except for the fall of 1988 to the spring of 1990, I had no problems. As for the '88 to '90 period, that was when she was assigned to the Blackwood project, an anti-terrorist team, and even you don't have security enough to get in. It's presidential priority."

Karen watched Liam and Sandoval leave with Zo'or and Da'an and then headed over to a lab in the basement of the PITS. She opened all the doors between her and her destination, silently urging the computer locks to hurry. When she entered the room she'd been headed for, she released a sigh. The room was a barren white and held only a number of pods with the computer equipment that ran them. She headed over to one in particular, in which a plate on the side had words etched into it, Colonel Paul Richard Ironhorse, and below were letters and numbers. She pulled up her baggy sleeve and rubbed the Plexiglas cover to reveal a man inside. He seemed to be sleeping. Untouched by time, Colonel Ironhorse slept the eternal sleep. Hopefully it wasn't too eternal, Karen thought to herself.

"Soon, Paul, soon," she whispered.

Karen sat at the computer and rubbed her eyes. Visiting the others always made her so depressed, so why did she keep doing it? Perhaps to touch base and feel like she truly did belong somewhere in this insane world. Born on Earth of Earth parents, and yet she still felt like an intruder on this planet. Karen knew she shouldn't be rubbing her eyes because that would just make the itching worse. An eye infection! They could make her super intelligent, strong, and for all intents immortal, among other things, and yet they couldn't end the chronic ear and eye infections that she'd gotten since she was a toddler.

A scream pierced the night, and despite having been ready for it, she jumped. She quickly rose and went into Debi's room. Since Da'an and Zo'or had been to the office, the old nightmares were resurfacing, and Debi would wake terrified at least once if not more a night, and it would take hours to calm her enough to get her back to sleep.

Tonight, Debi refused to fall asleep unless Karen curled up next to her; she wouldn't even let her go shut off the computer and lights in the office. She fell asleep next to Debi, which in itself was strange, since she preferred to sleep alone. She was a sprawler, and generally took up the whole bed, so it was better to sleep alone than to have to deal with an upset bed partner.

Light shined in through the window, suggesting the sun had risen, and yet Karen felt like staying in bed. Visits to her family always did this. She called them her blah days, when nothing could get done because she just couldn't seem to get started. Better than the duh days, when she had to keep going back because she'd forgotten something, but since the Mortheans, (I don't know EFC, but I believe she's referring to the aliens she's called the Morthai earlier in the story and will refer to by still other names later on. I don't know if they several two names or if we should change this to "the Morthai".) those hadn't really been a problem.

A noise brought her attention to the bedroom door, but she relaxed when she saw Jake leaning up against the doorframe.

Jake McQueen was a puzzle unto himself. When he was two years old, his parents had stopped at a gas station owed by Zeke McQueen. Shortly after leaving, they had been run off the road and murdered by a biker gang. The gang then pulled up at Zeke's and offered to sell Jake to him. He bought the boy, knowing that the next person they offered the kid to might not have been a good person. Zeke's soft heart couldn't allow a two-year-old to face whatever terror came from the kind of twisted mind that would buy a child.

He put out feelers, and the authorities left Jake in his custody until they could find his family. No one came forward, and Jake's parents had been buried as a John and Jane Doe. Zeke and his wife adopted Jake, and he was raised along side their own child, Michael, as if he were Michael's baby brother. Some people hadn't been so sure about a black couple raising a white child, but in the end Zeke and Yvonne had triumphed in adopting Jake, because he was settled and already thought of the McQueens as his biological family.

You couldn't find any two men closer than Jake and Michael. Michael was a tall, good-looking black man like his father Zeke. Michael wore glasses, had a wife who was a teacher, and two sons. Michael had Zeke's sense of responsibility for your fellow man.

Jake's blue eyes seemed to be far away as he lazily brushed a lock of shaggy brown hair out of his eyes. Michael and Jake were both U.S. Marshals, and yet they were total opposites. Michael was well groomed, short-haired, and usually dressed in a tie, whereas Jake was always in need of a haircut or a shave. He wore sneakers or cowboy boots with a well broken in black leather jacket, work shirt, and faded jeans.

Those clothes, in Karen's opinion, covered a multitude of sins. The man could make a good Catholic girl go to the dark side with just a look. Michael was good-looking but Jake was sexy, sultry, and pure animal magnetism. It made her wonder just what his parents had looked like. She knew Jake wasn't seeing her or Debi, but more likely what might have been. If he had any memories of before Zeke, he never mentioned them.

She knew though that he longed for a family, and when Debi had run away that night, he had rescued her from some street thugs and found his way into another family. Debi had insisted on having Jake stay for dinner despite Karen's protests because she was still quite suspicious of strangers. However, she couldn't deny him a reward for returning her wayward little sister, so she had invited him to dinner. Jake had a way of almost immediately relaxing a person. He was so friendly and sweet that you couldn't help but like him.

Jake moved away from the bedroom doorway and headed down the hall. Karen stretched and got up and headed to the kitchen to start breakfast. A knock on the door brought her attention, and she went to answer it. Liam and Sandoval stood outside her door. She lowered the curtain and opened the door. Karen invited them in.

"I was just starting breakfast, if you gentlemen are interested in coffee," she offered.

"I am," said Jake, and all three looked over to see Jake standing wearing only a towel. He shook his head like a dog and scattered drops of water everywhere. "Jake! You're getting everything wet!" she complained.

"You can always dry me off," he teased seductively.

"Jake, aren't you late for something?" she asked him crossly.

"Nope, just got off shift," he answered with a lazy grin that spoke of mischief.

She wound up the towel and cracked him with it.

"Oh yeah, I better get to bed because they'll be calling me back to work before you know it." Jake kissed the top of her hand and dodged another blow from the towel as he headed back into the apartment.

"What can I do for you, gentlemen?" Karen asked.

"We didn't mean to interrupt you," said Sandoval.

"You didn't interrupt a thing, Agent Sandoval. Trust me; if you had, I'd have let you know." She grinned at Sandoval, who adjusted his collar.

"Da'an thought it best that you have an escort to the lab," said Sandoval.

"Da'an or the little dictator, Zo'or?" she asked. "Well either way, tell them I'm more than capable of taking care of myself and don't need a baby-sitter," Karen replied.

"Dr. Blackwood . . ." he began.

"Sandy, listen, I really appreciate your concern but as I said, I can take care of myself. Do you have a problem with strong women, Sandoval?"

"Da'an, this Dr. Blackwood is quite interesting for a human but most unusual," said Zo'or as he sat on the bridge.

"Yes, the Doctor does seem to have most abnormal behavioral patterns for a human, but I've been told most brilliant humans are on the eccentric side," answered Da'an.

"Eccentric?" Zo'or said in a questioning tone. "Da'an, I do not believe her to eccentric at all, but quite crafty," replied Zo'or.

"Crafty?" asked Da'an "Yes, this human is up to something, whether she truly is a part of the Resistance or not, it would do us good to keep an eye on her."

Joshua Doors watched Karen Blackwood arrive with both Kincaid and Sandoval in tow. She looked ready to take on the planet, and he had no doubt that she was headed straight for his office. He knew he was correct when he heard raised voices outside his door and then the office door slammed open.

"Doors, would you call off your pit bulls?" She jerked a finger over her shoulder at Sandoval and Kincaid.

"They're not mine to call off," Joshua explained.

Karen pushed Kincaid and Sandoval out of the office and slammed the door in their faces before leaning against it. "Now, Doors, this is where I talk and you listen. I want the baby-sitters called off, Doors," she ordered angrily.

"I'd thought you were used to protection by now, Doctor, considering your time with the Blackwood Project," Joshua said, looking for a reaction from her.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Very impressive. Little Joshie has a buddy in government," she replied sarcastically.

"Are you always this rude, Doctor?" Joshua asked.

"Humanity hasn't given me much to be Mary Sunshine about, Joshua." She stressed his name when she said it.

"There has to be someone on this planet of six billion souls that you like," Joshua said.

"Debi," she answered.

"No one else?" he asked.

She seemed about to answer, then hesitated and quickly shook her head before turning her face away. Joshua could have sworn he saw tears for a moment, but she had quickly dashed them. He stepped over to her and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

She rudely brushed it off. "I don't need your pity, Doors!" She strode to the door and yanked it open, causing it to slam against the wall. Joshua winced and he saw his secretary jump at the noise.

"Heel, boys," she snarled at Sandoval and Liam before leaving the office. They both looked over at Joshua, who shrugged. They left to catch up to her, and Joshua looked apologetically at his secretary before quietly closing the door. He strode over to the window where he could see Karen waiting as her foot tapped angrily. Liam and Sandoval soon joined her, and they left for the lab.

"Curiouser and curiouser, said the rabbit to Alice," murmured Joshua.

"Augur!" yelled Renee Palmer as she angrily strode into Augur's lair. "What is the meaning of this bill?" She thrust the bill into his face as if it carried a stench.

"You used my services; you pay the bill," Augur said and then turned so she wouldn't see the grin plastered from ear to ear across his face.

She started to speak and then noticed his computer screen. "What's this?" she asked.

"Liam has a new project called Dr. Karen Blackwood, and I'm doing research on her," he replied.

"Joshua is obsessed with her, too. What is it about this woman that causes men to go gaga? Yes, she is pretty, but lots of women are pretty. Is there something about her; no matter how nasty she is, men just feel the need to take care of her?" Renee asked in a frustrated tone.

"Haven't met her personally, so I can't say," Augur replied.

Karen leaned back, and her joints cracked loudly. Suddenly she turned around, ready to fight, but relaxed her stance when she saw who it was.

"Daria!" she squealed like a teenager.

Daria smiled at her. "Hello, little sister. Do you often greet guests by trying to kill them?" she asked.

Daria was taller than her at five foot nine, and had warm, chocolate brown eyes and long black hair that was down to her backside.

"I thought you were one of my baby-sitters," she answered sourly.

"Oh, you mean the two cute numbers in the living room?" she asked.

"Yeah, but if they find you here, you may get grabbed and frisked before they'll let you explain how you got past them without their knowledge," said Karen.

"Hmmm," Daria replied.

"What?" asked Karen suspiciously.

"Oh, I was just wondering which one was the better frisker." They giggled.

"Mana said to bring you this." Daria handed her a file like a dutiful schoolgirl, which to Karen's recollections was as far as possible from the truth.

She quickly read through the file. "Mana was able to get further with the information from Da'an's project, but we're still not there."

Daria placed a comforting hand on her arm. "Soon, my sweet sister, soon," she answered.

A knock on the door brought their attention to activity in the living room.

"You'd better get out of here," Karen said.

"I'm gone," Daria quipped and vanished like the Cheshire cat.

Karen strode out into the living room to find that Joshua Doors had arrived and was talking with Liam and Sandoval. Joshua smiled at her and held out a bouquet of red roses.

"And what am I supposed to do with those?" she asked.

"Put them in water and enjoy them," Joshua answered.

"Until they die; everyone and everything dies, Mr. Doors," she responded.

"Joshua, please," he said.

"Doesn't make a whit of difference to me," she said as she bustled around the kitchen retrieving and then filling with water a vase for the roses.

"I was told red roses were your favorites," Joshua said.

"They used to be," she responded, and her surroundings faded as she remembered.

She was in the kitchen of the Cottage studying, and the door opened. She didn't look up because she knew it was either one of the team, one of Omega squadron, Ms. Pettyworth, or her husband, Major Kensington. No one else was allowed past the gates without authorization, thanks to Paul's excellent security system, and very few had authorization. Those that did had to be okayed with someone in the house, and since everyone else was outside enjoying the sun, she would be the one that picked up the phone. A red rose appeared in front of her, and she looked up to see Paul grinning widely.

"All work and no play makes Karen a dull girl," he teased.

"I have to study for my final," she complained.

He took her book and closed it. "You also have to eat. Now, what'll you have?" he asked.

"Why the rose?" she asked.

"Because I wanted it to know true beauty—yours," he replied. She blushed furiously, "How about eggs and maybe some toast?" he offered.

"You'll make someone an excellent wife one day, Colonel," she teased.

"So will you," he responded, with another of his all-too-rare smiles.

"Not me; I can barely cook or keep house, and I'm terrible with kids," she explained.

"Destined for a housekeeper, huh?" They laughed.

"Yep," she replied.

"You're a natural with kids; I've seen you in action. Remember? As for cooking, there isn't much you don't know how to cook, and there are these wonderful new inventions called cookbooks," he teased. "Besides, I don't need a housekeeper; I'm in the military," Paul said.

The silence was deafening, and Ironhorse rose to get the toast that had just popped up. "Ouch!" he hissed and then sucked his fingers. Nothing was sexier, in her opinion.

"Here, you big baby, let me take a look. Aw, that is so bad!" she replied as she examined his hand. Their eyes met, and suddenly her stomach did a flip-flop. They stared at each other for what seemed an eternity.


"Doctor?" Joshua asked, and Karen looked up at him, puzzled at his presence.

"What did you say?" she asked.

"I asked if you wanted to go to dinner with me," he asked.

"Yes." She didn't know why she said it, but she did, and it was too late to take it back. She saw to Debi before grabbing a jacket and heading towards the door. Sandoval and Liam had decided that Liam should be the one to go with Joshua and Karen, but when he stepped up behind them, she glared at him.

"It's all right, Liam; she'll be safe with me," Joshua offered, and Liam agreed because he didn't want any further trouble. Besides, the good doctor had proven she more than knew how to take care of herself.

The ride to the restaurant was quiet, as neither person said a word. The silence was deafening, but it was better than the chaos that raced through her mind. They arrived and were shown to a table. Joshua ordered a glass of wine and then looked toward her.

"Soda, anything but grapefruit," she ordered. "I'm allergic to alcohol." She answered the question in his eyes.

"So, Doctor, you followed in your father's footsteps?" Joshua asked after the waiter had left. He figured it was a simple question that wouldn't gain him too much flack.

"Are you always this lame on dates?" she asked, grinning as Joshua blushed furiously. "I'm sorry. Actually, it depends on which father you're talking about. My adopted father, Harrison Blackwood, was a medical doctor and an astrophysicist. My biological father . . . I have no idea, because he found being a father too big a strain for him to handle and split before I was born. Harrison adopted me when I was two, after my mom was killed in an explosion," replied Karen.

"Your father was a fool. I mean your biological one, not . . . " he stuttered to a stop as she tried to contain an attack of the giggles. "You're the kind of person that's very easy for a guy to fall in love with."

A look of panic crossed her face. "Excuse me, but the Tidy Bowl man is calling me."

At the confused look on his face, she pasted on a smile. "I mean, I have to go to the ladies' room," she explained before rushing away from the table.

If Joshua only knew the truth that her biological father was Lewis McQueen! Lewis was part of the new species. That very title made her stomach turn sour. New species, indeed! They were evolutionarily advanced humans who sought to wipe out the inferior humans or, in other words, anyone not like them. The only reason they hadn't done it was that there were one hundred thousand of the new species, and the normal humans numbered at six billion. It didn't stop them from sneaking around killing people and so forth.

Lewis actually trained the new species' killers. As if his arrogance wasn't enough, Lewis, like most of the new species, was self absorbed and interested only in ridding himself of normal humans. They didn't care that the Taelons were a threat to both normal humans and the new species.

One-track minds irritated her, she suddenly realized as she sensed another new species member nearby.

"It's sad how badly your abilities have degraded while you live that so-called normal life," said a masculine voice.

Lewis! her mind practically screamed, and she turned to face the man in question. Before her stood a man with a mane of silver hair brushing his shirt collar and piercing blue eyes that drew her like a moth to a light. Lewis was the kind of man whose very life force seemed to vibrate from his body. Not only did he make heads turn, but he also made people sit up and listen. Dynamic was the word that suited Lewis the best. There was an animal magnetism flowing from him that made any woman's pulse race.

"What the hell do you want?" she asked in a surly tone.

"My, how rude you are to your father," Lewis answered with amusement shining in his intense blue eyes.

She swore to herself because as usual, he was an enigma, a riddle that could never be solved. "My father isn't here," she answered in mock innocence and took pleasure in the albeit too-brief grief that appeared in his eyes before he recovered.

"Let's talk." He motioned toward a lounge that the restaurant offered for the customers' use. At her hesitation he grinned ferally, "It's important for your human race." Lewis stressed the word human with a sour tone. She imperiously strode ahead of him into the lounge.

Joshua noticed Karen stop, almost as if she had forgotten something, and then turn to face a man. They talked, and then she preceded him into the lounge. Joshua was puzzled and felt a strong urge to find out just who this man was. He rose and started toward the lounge when he noticed a tall man with close-cropped blond hair enter the lounge. When he didn't come out, it was obvious that he knew the Karen and the other man in the lounge. Joshua charged into the lounge and saw Karen holding the two men apart.

"Tom!" She pleaded as if it would stop the men from killing each other.

"What's going on here?" demanded Joshua.

"Joshua, not now," Karen commanded.

"Listen to her, little man," snarled the silver-haired man, who sounded angry. It seemed a start contrast to see him looking cool and relaxed and totally unshaken.

"Listen, I . . . " Joshua began, and Karen shoved him out the door and promptly slammed it in his face. He heard the lock being clicked closed and leaned against the wall in frustration.

"Tom, I trained you, and you abandoned your people, your teacher . . . " Lewis began.

"My people are fighting an unnecessary war instead of fighting the true enemy!" Tom Daniels hissed at Lewis.

"If you two can't behave, I'm going to send you to your rooms without supper," Karen said angrily as she stepped back in between the two men. "Lewis was just telling me he intends on helping us," Karen said, hoping the information would calm Tom's temper.

"And you were foolish enough to believe him?" he asked in disbelief.

"If I remember correctly, you were the traitor here, Daniels," Lewis answered in a sarcastic tone.

Tom made a lunge for him, and her body between them was the only thing that stopped him from connecting with Lewis.

"Guys!" she said in frustration. "No, Daniels, I don't trust him, because he doesn't even care about the new species and Lewis, don't look so shocked; we both know the only one you give a damn about is yourself," she snarled at him.

"Not just myself," Lewis answered quietly, and the tone of his voice caused both Karen and Tom to stop and stare.

"You're my daughter, and despite myself, I give a damn about Blondie over there." He jerked a thumb toward Tom. He seemed almost vulnerable as he said it.

"OK, where's Rod Serling?" she asked, expecting the Twilight Zone theme any minute.

Joshua straightened and rapped on the lounge's door. "If you're through in there, can I have my date back, please?" he asked sarcastically upset at getting the bum's rush. This woman treated him as if he were the guy next door instead of Joshua Doors. He built himself a reputation as a man who got what he wanted, yet this woman totally disregarded his wishes, and it intrigued him.

Karen popped her head out the door, "Sorry, Joshua, just trying to avoid World War whatever number it is these days," she quipped. She threw a rude look over her shoulder as Tom bumped her out of the doorway.

"I'll see you later." He strode away with anger apparent in every step.

"Tsk, the boy has no control of his emotions. He's forgotten everything I ever taught him," chided Lewis.

"Is that what you taught him under the mind control or while he had free will, Lewis?"

He looked at her as if he were stunned at the implication.

"Always the consummate actor, Lewis?" she asked.

He took a step toward her, and she backed away from him. "How did you turn into such a hateful woman?" he asked.

"What, you don't enjoy seeing your handiwork, Master Lewis?" she hissed at him.

"Karen . . . " Joshua began, unsure of what was happening between the two people before him; he definitely knew it was a battle of wills.

"My dearest daughter . . . " Lewis started.

"Daughter?" Karen said with disgust dripping from her voice. "When have you ever been a father to qualify me as your daughter?" she asked sarcastically.

Lewis flinched, and Karen was puzzled because the Lewis she knew never let something like killing a person in cold blood get to him, so why would a simple barb from her wound him? She didn't care; she'd given up years ago trying to make sense of the man who was her biological father.

"Let's get out of here, Josh." She took him by the arm and headed toward the door. Joshua took one last look at the man before heading after her. He stopped after leaving the restaurant and saw her looking small and vulnerable by the curb. She rubbed her arms as he approached, and he noticed her face was streaked with tears.

"Are you OK?" he asked quietly.

"I don't know why I keep hoping, but I do," she said bitterly, more to herself than Joshua.

He took off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders. Karen turned into his arms and began to cry in earnest. Joshua, unsure what to do, held her in his arms trying to comfort her. He looked up and his eyes met Lewis', and he noticed that the man's blue eyes seemed damp, but it was hard to tell. Lewis turned and got into a car with a blond woman before driving away. Joshua looked down, and Karen raised her eyes to meet his.

"Pretty pathetic, huh?" she quipped.

"Not really. My dad and I . . . well, we had our problems and by the time we actually managed to wade through them, it was too late," Joshua explained.

Something overcame him at the hopeful expression that blossomed in her eyes. Karen raised her hands, placing them on either side of Joshua's cheeks, and drew his head down to hers. Gently she kissed him before deepening it into a more passionate kiss. Joshua drew away.

" Um . . . I don't think this is a good idea." He stuttered as he mentally kicked himself. A beautiful and alluring woman wanted him, and he was turning her down.

"You're right, but not every good idea turned out better then a bad idea." She grinned at him seductively. Her grin faded and she stepped closer. "Take me home Joshua; take me to your home," she stressed the word your, and Joshua straightened.

"I win!" Debi answered gleefully as Sandoval gave her a mock frown of frustration.

"I do believe your cheating, Miss Blackwood," he teased.

"I never cheat; it's not honorable!" she teased back, pretending mock outrage. "I'll refresh our drinks." She got up and practically bounced into the kitchen.

"What is it, Kincaid?" Sandoval asked with a hint of humor.

"Just . . . I've never seen the big bad Companion Protector all paternal before, and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy," Liam joked as a wide grin plastered across his face. "Kincaid kids are wonderful creatures, and way back once, I'd hoped to be a dad. Teach someone to play ball and fuss over when they brought home an A+."

Sandoval sighed, and Liam was uneasy at the sadness in Sandoval's tone. "Parents and kids aren't always what they're cracked up to be, Sandoval, so be glad you're not a parent," answered Liam.

Sandoval raised an eyebrow. "Parent problems, Liam?" he asked, and Liam sat up from his slouched position.

"My mother is dead and my father . . . is better left not spoken of," replied Liam. Sandoval sensed there was a whole lot more he wanted to say, but that's when Debi returned, so he'd have to wait and question Liam later.

Karen kissed Joshua until he felt as if he would melt into the pavement and then pulled away.

"I think I'd better take you to your home," he stressed the word your. She smiled seductively at him, but Joshua tried to hold his ground.

"I'll get the car," he said and headed toward where they'd parked, hoping the walk would cool him down before he did something rash.

Karen stood at the curb and followed his progress. He was an interesting man, this Joshua Doors. He was played easily, and she admired that. Suddenly she gasped and grabbed her head as she swayed.

"Are you all right, Miss?" asked a worried man.

"Migraines." She smiled sweetly at him, and when he returned to his companion, she checked Joshua's progress before heading around behind the building.

She stretched out as her body began to twist and change its shape. Her clothes were absorbed into her, and she grew fur and a tail. She loped around to the front of the building on four legs. Karen saw Joshua looking around the lot trying to locate her, but she didn't have time to deal with him. She raced past him and the others, taking up an easy run as she headed for the laboratory--and one lab in particular--the one where she kept the others in cryosleep. Something was wrong, and she had to find out what before it was too late.

Karen arrived at the lab and quickly signed in, hating to stop for something so trivial but not wanting to alert the guard that something was wrong. She was tempted to transform back into a wolf and hurry her pace, but she knew that really would alert the guard to trouble. Finally, she made it to the lab and locked the door with an access code nobody but she knew.

She headed over to the wall and depressed a piece of it, causing the wall to slide back and reveal the cryochambers in which the rest of the Blackwood Project slept. She checked each efficiently, trying to find the cause for the warning and finally found it. Col. Paul Ironhorse—the chamber was in the process of shutting down and would leave Paul exposed.

She had to do something quickly before it killed him. She went to the cabinet and removed the serum she'd been working on for Da'an. It was raw and experimental, but it was better then standing around and letting him die. She opened the chamber door and injected him with the serum.

Karen then proceeded to gather the clothing she'd set aside for each team member for when they would awaken. Mara and Daria appeared at her side almost as if summoned.

We felt the Colonel was in trouble, Mara thought to her.

Thanks, Karen thought back to the blond, who was aiding her in getting Ironhorse out of the cryochamber. They quickly dressed him and then bundled him out the back door of her lab and into a car's back seat.

I'll close up shop and meet you there, Daria thought to them.

Mara floored the gas pedal, and Karen wondered if the guy who first made the crack about woman drivers had seen Mara behind the wheel before he'd said it. As they pulled up, a young doctor stood outside the ER door with a gurney and a couple of orderlies. The orderlies quickly lifted Ironhorse onto the gurney and whisked him away per the doctor's orders.

"Don't worry. I'm sure everything will be all right," the doctor said soothingly.

"We are concerned with his treatment, Edward," said Mara in a formal speech pattern.

"Mara, you've got to speak more often. I don't believe Earthlings have spoken that way since 1735," he teased her gently.

"Eddie, just take care of Paul. I have a date to get back to." Karen turned and slammed into a broad male chest. She looked up to see the puzzled face of Joshua Doors staring down at her.

"Joshua?" Karen squeaked and then quickly covered her surprise.

"I was worried when I couldn't find you, so I started driving in hopes of finding you and luckily spotted you here. What are you doing at the hospital?" Joshua asked warily.

"Listen, I . . . " she began, when Joshua grabbed her arm roughly.

"I want the truth or else!" he snarled.

A wind ruffled her hair as she lowered her head and as her head rose again, he noticed her eyes were pure silver. She flung Joshua a few yards away. He looked at her in surprise as the wind picked up and began to whip her hair and clothes about her body. Mara spoke to her in a language he didn't recognize, and her eyes returned to normal as the wind faded away. Debi stopped in her tracks and looked toward the door.

"Are you all right?" asked Liam.

"I'm fine," she responded, but she did seem a bit distracted.

The phone rang. "I'll get it!" Debi cried and ran out of the room.

Sandoval gave Liam a puzzled glance. Debi had been closest to the phone; it was strange that she would leave the room to pick up an extension.

"Curiouser and curiouser," mumbled Liam. He was tempted to pick up the extension and listen in, but he didn't. Moments later, Debi came out of the den with a worried look, and they resumed the game. Debi was noticeably distracted and finally excused herself, saying she was tired and wanted to go to bed.

"Dr. Blackwood at the best of times is unfathomable, but now her kid sister seems to be following in her footsteps," said Sandoval.

"The good doctor is a mystery," Liam confirmed.

Karen stared at Joshua in total shock and then turned, running away from the hospital as fast as she could as the tears ran down her face. Joshua caught up with her and grabbed her arm. Swinging her around, he shook her to get her attention.

"Let go!" she screamed hysterically.

"What is going on here?" Joshua asked quietly.

Karen turned away, unable to deal with the concern in his eyes. He picked her up in his arms. She began to struggle again but subsided after a few moments. He sat her on a nearby bench and then sat down next to her. Joshua offered her his handkerchief, and she hesitated and then took it, wiping at her eyes.

"I want to know. What's going on?" he asked quietly but in a firm tone.

"Lewis is my biological father, and he left my mother before I was born. He returned years later to cause grief. I try to avoid him as much as possible." Karen's voice croaked slightly.

"I mean the flinging me twenty feet bit," Joshua said as he turned to face her.

"My mother died when I was two, and Harrison found me by her body. He had her buried properly and then started a search for my family, but I guess Lewis wasn't interested, because he didn't come forward."

Joshua started to say something.

"This does concern my . . . talent." She spit out the word as if it were poison. "Joshua, I was born March 5, 1967. That makes me forty-three, but do I look it?" she asked. Joshua shook his head. "When I was twenty-one my dad, Harrison Blackwood, joined a group called the Blackwood Project. My dad hated the military and the government, so he had to have a really good reason for working with them. We were called an anti-terrorist team, but the only terrorists we dealt with were the non-human kind."

Joshua sat up straighter.

"The Morethai had ruined their own planet and needed a new one. They wanted Earth to be that one, but they didn't want the tenants of the planet. They were intending on destroying the human race except for some for slaves and zoo exhibits. They experimented on us as if we were inanimate objects. They experimented on me, Joshua, before we could defeat them.

"Malzor, their leader, was married to a woman named Teela. She came with some others in 1953 in response to the light they saw in space, which were the detonation of the atom bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. They arrived on Earth and were sickened by a microbe we thought had killed them but had really put most of them into a coma.

"Teela, unfortunately, was one of the ones who died. Malzor wanted revenge because he felt it was Earth's fault that Teela died. Teela's father refused, so Malzor murdered him and told his people that the king had died of old age. He launched a ship with a third of their population and then left as the planet exploded, killing the rest.

"After three years of fighting, the truth came out, and Malzor was killed. Mana and the other Morethai helped us with saving the human race until a virus struck the facility we were working in. The Morethai were unaffected, but the humans were seriously ill. I was unaffected because of experimenting," she explained.

"What happened to the humans in the facility?" Joshua asked.

"Let me show you." She took his hands in hers, and a glow began to stretch out from her body and envelop her and then Joshua. A flash blinded him, and when it cleared they were in her lab at Doors International. She led him to a wall and pressed a section revealing a small room in which there were cryochambers--cryochambers that were in use!


"Code Blue!" yelled a nurse as she ducked back into Colonel Ironhorse's room.

A team rushed in, headed by Edward, who barked orders as he set about starting the Colonel's heart again.

"Damn you, Paul! If you give up, I swear I'll haunt you forever!" Edward yelled at him angrily as he performed CPR. They worked on him and got a rhythm and lost it and got it back at least four times before he stabilized.

"So you've decided to grace us with your presence a little longer, Paul?" Edward asked.

"What happened?" asked a concerned Daria as she stepped aside to avoid being stepped on by the team of nurses and such, who were leaving the room. Edward came over to her and took her arms.

"He's back and planning on staying, at least for the time being," Edward reassured her.

"You can't let him die!" Daria replied in a panicked tone.

"I don't have a say in the matter. It's between Paul and the Angel of Death now. All I can do is sit and wait to see whether I have a few more years with a friend or I have to take out a dark suit that's suitable for a funeral." Daria obviously didn't like the answer from the look on her face.

"Paul!" Debi screeched as she suddenly sat up, and her terror-stricken eyes glanced around the room as if she could see Paul Ironhorse. The door burst open, and Liam and Sandoval rushed into the room. Liam sat next to her and took Debi into his arms to comfort her.

"Paul's in danger!" Debi said hysterically.

"He's OK," said Sandoval.

"No!" Debi wasn't about to be put off. She reached for the phone on the bedside table and speed dialed Edward's number.

"Hello?" said Edward in a sleepy voice.

"Edward? Paul?" Debi sputtered, unable to bring herself to say the words.

"He's fine. It was touch and go for a bit there, but he's OK. I need some sleep if I'm going to do him any good, and tell that to Karen as well so she doesn't call and interrupt my nap," Edward said playfully. Debi apologized and Edward soothed her a bit more before she hung up and allowed Liam to tuck her back in.

"This is all that's left of the Blackwood project." Karen told Joshua solemnly. Joshua stroked a nametag on one of the chambers as he read the name, Dr. Harrison Blackwood, PhD, MD--the great Dr. Blackwood himself. "

Why?" he asked.

"Because when the Earth-Morethai War ended in May of 1990, they were affected by the virus that Malzor, their leader, had intended on using on Earth's inhabitants. Thankfully, Mana and the others learned how insane Malzor really was and turned against him. They worked with us on dismantling all their projects and helped us save humanity, but the virus attacked out of nowhere. We hadn't even realized we'd been infected. When we did, we did all sorts of tests; the virus wasn't contagious, so we didn't have to fear for those who came in contact with us.

"I had been altered enough so the virus was killed by my immune system. We attempted to use my blood to cure the others but it didn't work. Finally we were forced to place them into cryosleep. I went to work on Da'an's project because I could see that it had potential to bring us a cure. I was forced to leave you because Colonel Ironhorse, our chief of security, was in trouble because his cryochamber failed. I was forced to use the untested version on him," she explained.

"That's why you went to the hospital," said Joshua, finally beginning to understand.

"Yes, Paul Ironhorse went into cardiac arrest, and we got him to the hospital so a friend who's a doctor there could help him, she replied.

"You are really . . . " he trailed off.

"Yes, I'm forty-three years old. And yes, I fought off an alien race known as the Morethai so humanity could welcome the Taelons to do the same things the Morethai were doing," Karen responded bitterly. "Joshua, I need you to promise not to say a word about this to anyone, for the safety of the team."

Joshua looked at her pleading eyes and wondered if he could trust this woman who'd been lying to him since he'd met her.

"You're going to tell the Taelons about me, aren't you?" she asked angrily.

"No!" said Joshua, surprised, "I mean, no, I won't tell the Taelons about you. What you're doing here is attempting to save your family, and I can't betray you," Joshua said with a hint of sadness in his voice. He knew that if he could have had the chance to save his father, he would have jumped at it.

"What can we do for them?" he asked as he gestured towards the cryochambers, which hummed quietly.

"Nothing, at least not until we see how the serum works on Paul. If it works, then we can use it on the others," she replied.

"And if it doesn't?" he asked.

"Paul dies, and we're back at square one," she said without emotion, but Joshua could see the war in her eyes. She loved Paul Ironhorse and would die for him; that was clear enough. Joshua strode over to her and drew her into his arms as she quietly began to cry. He had a feeling she hadn't been able to do that for years and needed to badly. Joshua held her as she cried herself out.

"I'm going to take you home," he said. She looked up at him as she wiped her cheeks with the back of her hands. He lowered his head, and his lips brushed hers lightly. "I'm sorry," he said as he stepped back quickly.

"For what?" she asked. She came over to him and drew his head down to hers and kissed him. "I want you, Joshua, and I want you now," Karen said as she took his hand and drew him with her into her office.

Joshua saw distractedly a cot that must have been there for late-nighters. She unbuttoned his shirt and pushed him gently down onto the cot. She quickly stripped off her blouse and jeans and joined him on the cot. Taking his head with her hand, she drew him to her and kissed him for all he was worth. Joshua fell back onto the cot, and he felt every curve of her body mold perfectly with his.

"Mr. Doors, I do believe our relationships is definitely improving," she quipped and kissed him on the nose before starting to kiss and nibble his neck. Joshua groaned, as that was the only communication he was capable of at the moment.

Joshua woke and felt something sprawled across his torso. He looked down to see Karen Blackwood sprawled across him, sleeping peacefully. He smiled to himself as he remembered what had occurred last night. She took a deep breath and shifted on his chest. Karen hugged him tighter to her and snuggled her face into the hollow where his shoulder met his neck. As he watched, her eyes opened and she lifted a hand to wipe the sleep from her eyes.

"Good morning, Boss," she said playfully.

"Good morning to you, Miss Blackwood," Joshua responded.

"Oh, my! What time is it?" she asked, sitting up suddenly. She leaned across him and picked up his watch from the desk. "Good Lord, the security patrol will be by in a few minutes." She rose and started to collect her clothing. Joshua enjoyed the view as he watched her move about the room as she got dressed.

"Nice legs," he teased.

"Get dressed." She threw his clothes at him, and they hit him squarely in the face. He picked up his clothes and dressed. When he looked over at her, Karen blushed because he hadn't realized that she'd been watching him get dressed, and the look in her eyes was enough to make him forget anything but Karen, he, and the room existed.

They collected the rest of their things, and Joshua led her out of the lab to his car. They didn't speak as he drove her back to her apartment. Joshua parked the car, and as she started to get out of the car, he laid a restraining hand on her arm.

"Karen, about last night . . . " he began.

"Joshua, I meant what I did. I didn't do it to get your loyalty or because I was a hysterical female," she explained.

Joshua leaned over and kissed her, silencing any further explanations. "I just wanted to say I had a wonderful time and I'd like to see it happen again," he responded quietly.

Karen ducked her head as she blushed, got out of the car, and rapidly headed to her apartment. Joshua locked the car and followed her, only to barely avoid bumping into her as she stopped just inside her door. On the couch, Sandoval and Kincaid lay sound asleep with Liam's head resting on Sandoval's shoulder.

"They look so adorable; it would be a shame to disturb them," she whispered.

Joshua leaned over Liam to gently wake him, when Sandoval's hand shot up and wrapped around Joshua's throat.

"Where is Dr. Blackwood?" he asked angrily.

Before Joshua could answer, a crash came from the bedroom, and all three men raced in to find Karen sprawled on the floor. Joshua took her gently into his arms and cradled her. As he felt her forehead, a concerned look crossed his face.

"She's burning up!" he said in a panicked tone.

"I'll call an ambulance," Liam said.

"No time." Joshua lifted her and carried towards the front door.

"What's going on?" asked a panicked Debi.

"It's all right," Sandoval said, taking the scared girl in his arms.

"Karen?" She looked up at Sandoval, and he could see the barely contained terror in her eyes.

"You go get dressed, and I'll take you to the hospital," Sandoval said as he steered her toward her room. Liam looked over at Sandoval. "Take her and Doors. Debi and I'll catch up," he answered the question in Liam's eyes.

Edward crumpled up the paper cup that he had just drunk his probably millionth cup of coffee from and tossed it in the garbage can.

"Two points," said a weak voice, and Edward nearly killed himself getting over to the bed.

"Paul?" he asked.

"Do you always yell, or am I just a favorite victim of such medical treatment?" Ironhorse moved slightly and winced.

"I'm glad your sense of humor is intact. Now let's check everything else," Edward quipped sarcastically. He gave Ironhorse a full exam and found that, other than numbness in his legs, he was apparently in great shape for a guy who'd spent roughly two decades in cryosleep.

"My legs?" he asked as Edward helped him sit up.

"Don't worry, Rambo. It's more than likely a side effect of the cryosleep. Hopefully you'll have full function soon and if not, there is always physical therapy. The good thing about this is that the serum works, which means we can start reanimating the others," Edward answered, barely able to contain his excitement.

"How long?" Paul asked.

"You went under in 1990, and it's 2010. It's been twenty years, Paul, and a lot has happened. We can see to bringing you up to date when you're stronger. Right now, you recover physically, and we'll see about your mental and spiritual recovery," he replied.

Joshua raced into the ER and called for someone to help him. A nurse made a call and then came over to him. In a few minutes, a couple of orderlies arrived with a gurney and a doctor. They put Karen on the gurney and as the doctor examined her, she was whisked away. Before Joshua could follow, though, the nurse stopped him.

"Sir, we are going to need information," she said.

"I'm Joshua Doors, and any bills should be sent to Doors International." He handed her his business card and turned back to look the way Karen had gone. The nurse, realizing Joshua was preoccupied, returned to her desk to begin the paperwork.

"She's a tough lady, Joshua," Liam said as he laid a comforting hand on Joshua's shoulder.

Sandoval glanced over at Debi as he drove. She had dressed and gotten into his car without a word. She'd slumped down in the seat with an expression on her face that told him she expected her whole world to be destroyed. Why he had taken this girl to heart he couldn't explain. She seemed so fragile and vulnerable and in the need of protection. He felt good giving her a feeling of security instead of taking it, like he usually did. Sandoval shook himself out of his reverie and realized he'd almost missed the turnoff. He couldn't allow himself to give in to emotions. He'd surpressed his emotions because he needed to in order to do what he had to do, but with just one look this child girl had awakened every one of those emotions.

"I don't need time, Edward. I've wasted enough of it already. What I need is to get up and about and see about my people," Ironhorse complained.

"I may have been too young to remember the Morethai and how they almost destroyed Earth." Edward noticed how Ironhorse's fingers tightened on his leg, so tightly that the knuckles went white, but he otherwise didn't give any sign of distress--or was it rage? "I understand your hatred of the aliens . . . " he began.

"Do you? Do you really?" asked Ironhorse. "They started the fight in 1988, but I wasn't there because they took me prisoner after the first year. I was placed in a hole with no light and no companionship, human or otherwise, for two years. The only outside contact I had was when a slot delivering food opened three times a day. I tried to escape, but when I realized that was impossible, I tried to kill myself." He said the last part so emotionlessly that it made Edward's blood freeze. "They wouldn't allow me even that," he spat out bitterly. "I couldn't find anything to slash my wrists or to hang myself with because they were very through in making sure no sharp objects and so forth were in the cell. When I tried to starve myself to death, they intervened with medical aid.

"When they finally surrendered, they revealed the prisoners to others and led them to us. I was lucky because the rest of the prisoners, those that were captured before and after me, were either dead or totally insane with no chance of recovery. I was alive and somewhat sane."

Edward didn't know what to say. What a nightmare it must have been to virtually go from imprisonment like that to cryosleep! He was amazed that Paul wasn't claustrophobic.

"I'll see what I can do about speeding up the PT, Paul, but I'm not promising anything."

Ironhorse nodded and just then, Edward's beeper went off. "I've got to go; it's an emergency, but don't overstress yourself. Doctor's orders."

Edward rushed through the waiting room and was grabbed by Joshua.

"Help her," he pleaded.

"Karen?" Edward asked, and Joshua nodded.

Edward wasted no time getting to the ER and checking her over. He ordered the nurses about, intent on bringing down her dangerously high fever. He tried to make her as comfortable as possible as he tried to get a response from her, but she was unconscious and not responding in any way. After seeing her settled, he went to the waiting room, where Sandoval and Debi had joined Liam and Joshua.

Debi ran into Edward's arms. "I don't have an answer for her condition, Debs. She has a high fever and is non-responsive. I've seen her settled into a room and ordered tests but until they return, I'm afraid I'm at a loss," he told them.

"Make sure she gets the finest medical care," commanded Sandoval, throwing Debi a comforting glance.

"Already doing so, but as I said, until results return the best you can do is fill out the admittance forms and pray." He unwrapped Debi's arms from around his waist.

"I have to get back," he said. Edward left and Debi looked after him longingly. She started to shake and then to cry. Liam came over to her, but she bypassed him and flung her arms around a distressed Sandoval. He patted her back awkwardly in an attempt to comfort the young woman. Joshua paced and Liam turned, opening his global, intending to inform Da'an and Renee of what was happening.

They had revived the other Blackwood project members in hopes of helping Karen. Edward was at a loss and completely exhausted. He nodded off in a chair and had awakened to see Harrison Blackwood standing by Norton Drake. They were discussing a computer program.

"How long do you think it'll take to create the program?" asked Harrison.

"Give me a week, Harrison," responded Norton.

"You have an hour," replied Blackwood.

"I'm going to have to tap into some databases. Most people would consider it bad manners to hack into them, if not downright illegal," replied Drake with a mischievous grin.

"Well if they catch you, I'll just say you're a power-hungry sociopath intent on taking over the world," teased Harrison.

"I can live with that," Drake answered as his grin widened.

Edward tried to sit up and knocked something off a table next to him.

"Well, it looks like sleeping beauty has had a prince's kiss," teased Norton in a Jamaican accent.

"Very funny, Drake, but I have a deathly ill patient and an annoyed Colonel wanting to recover before he's able. What do you have?" he asked in mock anger.

"I had to live with that Colonel for years, so I'm one up on you with ol' Iron Britches," Norton replied. Edward couldn't help but grin. Despite Norton's colorful adaptations of Ironhorse's name, he knew they loved each other like family and would do anything for each other. He stood and nodded before heading to ICU to once again check on Karen.

She was going rapidly down hill, and there wasn't anything he could do about it. He didn't know why he tortured himself by coming to see her when he knew he was baffled. He checked her vital signs and Joshua, who'd been camping out in her room since she'd fallen ill, lifted his head. He looked at Edward with a glimmer of hope in his eyes, and Edward really wished he had something to give him. He shook his head once again and left the room, leaving Joshua and Karen alone.

"We currently have her fever under control because of ice treatments, Agent Sandoval, but I don't know how much longer that will last," said Edward.

"If she needs blood . . . " he trailed off and glanced quickly with a worried look over at Debi, who was asleep on the waiting room couch. She had refused to return home until she'd heard either way. Like Joshua, they both refused to leave Karen Blackwood's side. Only one visitor was allowed at a time, so they had taken turns visiting her and talking to her.

Her vitals were stable, but the fever burned out of control, and they couldn't find a reason for it.

"Perhaps I may help?" Edward and Sandoval turned to see Da'an.

"What could you do?" asked Edward.

"A joining perhaps? Maybe all she needs is someone to lead her home," offered Da'an.

Edward looked as if he was about to argue, but then the air seemed to seep out of him. "We've tried everything else." Edward motioned for Da'an to follow him.

Joshua stood as they entered. "Da'an has offered to try a joining in hopes that it might help," Edward said.

"We'll try it," said Harrison, as he unfolded his long frame from a chair before Joshua could object.

"Do you know what he is?" hissed Joshua.

"Yes, but my little girl is the most important thing here," Harrison replied quietly.

Joshua seemed to be struggling to hold back tears, but of sorrow or rage he couldn't tell, and he doubted Joshua could either. Da'an stood next to Karen and began the joining, but only a few minutes later he seemed to stumble backwards in shock and surprise.

"Da'an?" exclaimed a worried Liam as he rushed to catch Da'an.

"Miss Blackwood has a . . . formidable mind," Da'an responded as he stood in Liam's arms, blinking rapidly.

"In other words, the brat threw you out of her mind. That's a good sign because it means she's still stubborner then a mule," replied Harrison.

Paul Ironhorse walked over to her bedside and, taking a hand, he kissed it gently. He then leaned down and whispered in her ear quietly in a language Joshua couldn't understand.

"Sioux mixed with bits of Cherokee and Blackfoot," Harrison explained.

Karen moved in her sleep and seemed to curl into the side of the bed. Ironhorse sat in his wheelchair. Joshua felt a sick feeling at what that meant. If she did survive, did it mean he would lose her to Ironhorse? Her eyes slowly blinked opened.

"Paul?" she asked in a froggy voice and then cleared her throat.

"Yes, little one." He smiled at her and stroked her cheek affectionately.

Joshua turned and left the room, exiting the hospital to get some fresh air.


Karen sat in bed feeling frustrated at her inactivity. Edward refused to release her due to the fact that he still didn't know what caused her collapse. She was more than ready to go home, and yet Edward was wary about releasing her. Ironhorse, who had been released only yesterday, had left a few moments ago trying to talk Edward into letting her go. One week in bed and she wanted to run out of the hospital screaming. Part of it had to do with her phobia over hospitals and doctors. She had been a sickly child and forever at the mercy of needles and tests; that had made her want to steer as clear as possible from any hospital.

The door opened and she looked up, but the smile left her face when she realized it was Joshua.

"Hello?" he said tentatively as he came over to the bed. He sat down next to her and took her hand in his, only to have her snatch it back.

"You don't visit me for a week and then you just pop up and say hello and expect everything to be forgiven?" she asked angrily.

"I understand your being angry at me for not visiting, but I thought you should have time to spend with . . . " he trailed off.

"With who?" she asked.

"Never mind," he answered and started to stand up, only to be pulled back down by Karen.

"Spit it out, Doors, or do I have to get nasty?" she threatened.

"Ironhorse, all right?" he hissed angrily, mad at her for making him face the fact that she'd rather be with Ironhorse than him.

"Ironhorse?" she asked in a puzzled voice. "Joshua, what does Paul have to do with this? When I sleep with someone, it means I intend to pursue a relationship. You slept with me, and then you took a hike!" she angrily accused him.

"I love you, damn it!" Joshua responded just as angrily, and then the surprised look on her face caused him to realize what he'd just admitted.

"I love you too, you moron, so what does Paul have to do with this?" she hissed.

"You're in love with him," he responded.

"Are you deaf as well as stupid? I just told you I love you!" She grabbed his tie and drew him roughly toward her, planting a hot and heavy kiss on him. Joshua pulled back.

"You don't love Ironhorse?" he asked, confused.

"I do love Paul but like family, not like a lover. Joshua, while Ironhorse slept I lived, and my life changed. I moved on from Ironhorse, since I never knew if he'd ever be released from his cryosleep. I had to or I wouldn't have survived," she exclaimed. "I love you, Joshua Doors. I love Paul like family, which he is to me. You I want as a lover, and if it works out, my husband and the father of my children," she told him.

"Father?" Joshua replied, stunned at what she was telling him.

"Slow down, son. I said possible, I don't know if I can have kids, let alone if I want them at this point in my life, not to mention a number of other factors," she responded.

"My dad came late to being the loving father. He was a business-first, family-second kind of guy. I want to do better than my dad did and raise my kids as the most important thing in my life." Joshua told her.

"Josh, think before you leap. If you make your children the most important thing, you're doing the same thing your dad did, except at the other end of the spectrum. You have to find balance within yourself before marriage and children come, or it'll never work. The answers are inside us. All we have to do is be willing to make the necessary sacrifices for them," said Karen.

© 2001
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