azombiewrites: (The Magnificent Seven)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: A Man Reborn

Rating: PG
Fandom: The Magnificent Seven
AU: Space Cowboys
Main Characters: All Seven.
Summary: Six men make up Team Seven, a group of professional bounty hunters. After a fellow bounty hunter’s cover is blown, he joins the team and begins the journey of changing his life forever.
Disclaimers: The guys are owned by CBS, MGM, Trilogy Entertainment Group, and The Mirisch Corp.
Spoilers: None
Status: Complete
Total Word Count: 58,220



Prologue


The human race had been separated at a young age before the nuclear holocaust of 2047. The history books claim that the governments of America, England, China, France, and Russia knew the war was inevitable so they began the endeavour to clear the Earth of as many people as possible.

Under the premise that the planet was becoming over populated, governments announced that they were going to create new colonies on other recently discovered planets. Most humans didn't like the idea of living on a planet where you had to wear protective clothing and breathing equipment just to go outside. The collective governments knew there wasn't a choice. A list was created that included people who could build a new world and encourage it to grow and survive under harsh conditions. The chosen weren't given the choice; they were forced to leave families, friends and their jobs behind. Once the selective group of humans colonised their planets, families were then sent to join them.

Nine years later, Iraq fired the first missile that would cause brutal destruction of all the powerful countries on the planet. Nuclear fallout destroyed what was left. The humans that had been sent out to colonise other planets nine years ago were now on their own; there was nothing to go back to.

A new government called The Authority had been formed five years after the destruction of Earth to control the colonies. They had created new laws but the criminal element that had been unknowingly sent along with the others, also changed to accommodate the new laws. The long distances between the colonies made it harder to keep criminals under control.

Therefore, it was decided that a chip would be inserted into all humans when they're born. This chip would hold information about the person. Information, that when read, would tell the Authorities everything they needed to know, from childhood information, programming information and criminal information. What the humans didn't know though was that it also contained a homing device. When the Authorities knew who they were after, it was only a matter of inputting the person's ID and their position would be revealed on a universal map.

The human race though, never changed as they were expected to after the nuclear war. After forty years of the new law system, not everyone was happy with the way it was working. Some didn't like to be controlled; they wanted their freedom and privacy and fought for it. The Rebellion - as they had come to be known - considered the government to be the enemy and they began to fight back. They were prepared to do anything to bring down the Authorities.
The Government decided it was time to change their tactics. What they needed was an elite group of men who could go in and bring out certain criminals that were high up in the rebellion, criminals that organised crimes against the government. They called these men, who would become part of the Authorities, Bounty Hunters.

Chris Larabee - a forty one year old Caucasian male - was the leader of such a group known as Bounty Seven; aptly named because they were the seventh group to be formed. At the age of eighteen Larabee had been programmed with leadership skills, combat skills and war strategies. The intention had been for him to be a ranking officer in the Earth's army. Chris Larabee was an independent man who had other ideas. He wasn't prepared to fight a hopeless war against a life form the human race would never defeat. With his programming, Larabee had been the perfect choice to lead one of the groups.

Orin Travis, a man who had been programmed to be a Judge of the Court, had begun his recruitment of bounty hunters ten years earlier. He now had twenty-four teams working for him but there were more criminals than there were bounty hunters and things were beginning to get out of control.

Travis had also hired men to join the Rebellion to try to report crimes while they were in the making, rather than after the crime was committed. It was the publicity the crimes created that encouraged men and women to join the Rebellion. Most of the human race never understood why there was even a Rebellion. Life was good for all humans. They were provided with food, clothing and medical treatment at no cost to them; they were taken care of, not like the years before the war. They were programmed with skills that would allow them to take part in a certain profession, although no one really had a choice in what that profession would be. They were programmed in what was needed the most. Money still existed, so they were paid well for what they did.

The Rebellion though, was intent on destroying everything that was good. The Authorities weren't going to allow them to succeed. It was a new war that could one day, finish what the nuclear war couldn't, and that was to destroy the human race.


One

Chris Larabee, a man with a bad-assed attitude and a reputation to match, was tired and extremely pissed off at the situation he and his men were now facing. This was supposed to have been a simple collection of a bounty, go in, and take him out. Simple, that's what they said. Go in and take him out. If they could, they would have gone in and taken him out twenty minutes ago. The guy was supposed to be with a small group of criminals. They were told three, making it seven bounty hunters going up against one bounty and his three protectors. Although for some reason, Bounty Seven were now defending themselves against nine criminals (including the bounty) that were refusing to cooperate.

They had been able to stop the bounty (a man named Halis) from entering a docking bay on the planet simply known as Algera and escaping with his scalp intact. They were now caught in a large room packed shoulder high with crates and other useless objects.

'For the last time! Give yourself up!' Chris yelled over the top of the metal crate he was using for cover.

'No.' the answer had been simple, just like the extraction was supposed to have been simple.

'Why not?' Chris lowered his head. Why did he always get stuck with the idiots?

'I've already told you why.'

The man spoke with an ugly accent. It wasn't familiar but if the accent was anything to go by, the face of the person who owned the voice was just as ugly.

'Tell me again how stupid you are,' Chris said.

'We're not giving ourselves up because there are more of us than there are of you.'

This came from a man that was obviously unaware of Larabee's frightening reputation.

Larabee grinned at Buck Wilmington, a long time friend and member of his team. 'The man doesn't know what he's up against.'

'Then maybe we should show him.' Buck winked back at him. 'Hey, did I tell you I've got this young lady waiting for me at the bar? She said she's going to . . . '

'Shut up Buck.' Chris threw him a warning glance.

'Chris,' JD the youngest member of the team wore a serious expression on his clean features.

'Why don't we just let Buck bore them to death with his long list of desperate woman that he's claimed to have conquered.'

It was a suggestion that Chris considered for a full ten seconds.

'Your mouth is starting to get a little bit too smart lately JD!' Buck growled at him.

'Learning from the best Buck,' said JD.

'I'm going to count to ten,' Chris didn't yell this time, he knew they would hear him, 'and then we're going to come and get you. If any of you die in the process, well, that's your problem, not ours.'

'You're a bit over confident aren't you?'

Chris hadn’t heard this voice yet. Whoever it was, he sounded calm, too calm, like he didn't have a care in the world.

'You're sounding a bit optimistic yourself for someone who is about to die.' Chris answered him.

'Yes,' the man sounded like an arrogant asshole, 'and you do realise that one of your men may die when you attempt to capture your bounty.'

'He dies first.' Chris decided.

'We knew about that death thing when we signed on.' Buck answered for Chris.

Chris looked at Buck who nodded back at him. He knew his men all thought the same way. They knew death came with the job and were prepared to die protecting each other. It was a decision they had made. The Rebellion were intent on destroying what was left of the human race, and Bounty Seven were a group of men who had every intention of being part of the Alliance that would eventually stop the Rebellion.

'Even young JD?' the voice called out.

'How does he know about me?' JD asked Buck.

'I haven't got a clue.' Buck shrugged but it had unnerved him that a criminal had information regarding JD.

'Well, are you going to allow a young man who hasn't even begun to live, die because you're too stupid and stubborn to walk away?'

'Did he just call me stupid?'

'Sure did.' Buck winked at Chris in an attempt to make him angrier.

'Vin?' Chris spoke to his second in charge on the portable headset.

'He's human.' Vin Tanner answered.

'How human?' Chris knew that Vin would be wearing his eye scope. Tanner was a master when it came to hitting a target at a great distance, (that's what he had been programmed for, that and tracking man or beast), but he always wanted and needed to see the face of the man he was about to shoot. He had once said that it made it easier for him to accept it if his target had a face, otherwise it felt like he was shooting the target in the back.
'Chestnut hair, green eyes.' The tracker began to explain.

'Green eyes are rare.' Chris pointed out to him.

'Your eyes are green.' Vin reminded him.

'I'm also rare.' Chris smiled in response. 'There's not another person like me out there.'

'Thank the heavens above.' The voice that whispered in Chris's ear came from Josiah Sanchez, the oldest member of the group.

Chris ignored him.

'Pale complexion, he looks as though he's sick, really sick.' Vin continued. 'Slim, close to skinny and he has this irritating smile that makes me want to slap it off his face. Good looking guy too.'

'You want to ask him out on a date Vin?' Buck teased him.

'If I did, you wouldn't hear about it from me.' Vin retorted.

'That supposed to mean something to me?'

'It means that you talk too much about the women you date.'

'That's because my conquests deserve to be talked about.'

Chris grimaced at the conversation. 'Buck that's enough about your women and Vin, if the guy's alive at the end of this, you can ask him out.'

'I don't want to ask him out.' Vin growled into the mouthpiece.

'Excuse me.' the voice called out again. 'I thought you were going to count to ten?'

'I'm counting already!' Chris growled.

'Then could you speak up please because we can't hear you.'

Chris could hear the laughter coming from the other side of the room.

'I hate him already.' Chris grumbled. 'If he doesn't die then I'm going to kill him.'

'Chris,'

'Yes Josiah.'

Josiah Sanchez was the man who often used his calm attitude to keep the group from taking drastic measures that would endanger their lives.

'Don't let the guy get to you. Just do your job and know that we'll be right behind you.'

'Ah . . .. Don't you mean right beside me?' Chris corrected him.

'No, I believe I meant what I said.' Josiah smiled at the expression that he pictured on his boss' face.

'Thanks for your support Josiah.'

Sometimes he wondered why he even bothered taking these men on. Each man was so different from the other, often clashing and arguing with each other but for some reason they considered each other as family.

'You're welcome.'

'We're still waiting for number one,' the voice yelled, 'or are you incapable of even counting to one.'

'I can shoot him now Chris.' Vin offered.

'No.' Chris smiled coldly 'I want to shoot that one myself.'

'Okay, but don't say I didn't offer.'

The smile dropped off Vin's face when he saw the bounty turn towards the guy with the rare green eyes. Heated words were spoken then the bounty fired his gun, the bullet entering low on the left shoulder of the other man.

'Chris, the bounty just shot the guy.' Vin reported to his boss.

'What?'

'The bounty . . . '

'Just shot the guy I wanted to shoot! I heard what you said Vin.'

'Then why did you say 'what'?'

'This is really starting to piss me off.'

'And here we were thinking that you were already pissed off.' Buck smiled at JD who was five meters to his left.
Chris ignored him. 'On the count of three guys.' he received five acknowledgements that they were ready. 'One . . . two . . . three.'

Chris, Buck and JD rose as one and began to fire on the group of men that now numbered eight.

From his position, Vin took out two men that were attempting to take the lives of his friends.

Nathan Jackson, the only black man in Bounty Seven came from the right side of the room, shooting a man that had his sights on JD. Chris managed to get close enough to the bounty to capture him, but one of the low life criminals that were protecting the bounty jumped in front of him. Larabee fired on instinct and with experience; the man was dead before he hit the floor.

That left four men, including the bounty. Chris quickly searched his immediate location; the bounty (who was wanted dead or alive) was twelve feet to his right. Larabee dove to his left and fired his weapon before the bounty could fire. Larabee was quick; anyone who knew this would not go up against him.

Seeing that the man who was paying them was now dead, the three remaining criminals gave themselves up. What was the use of dying for something they were no longer going to be paid for? They dropped their weapons and lifted their hands into the air to show that they were no longer a danger to the bounty hunters.

Chris lay where he was for a few seconds. This was supposed to have been an easy job. Now the bounty was dead - it didn't really matter to him if the bounty was taken in dead or alive - but that wasn't the point. He was told by his boss Orin Travis, that it wouldn't be a difficult collection, except that it had been.

'You okay down there cowboy?'

Chris looked up and saw Vin Tanner smiling down at him. 'You call me that again and I'll kill you!'

'Yeah, yeah, that's what you always say.' Vin put out a hand to help his friend up onto his feet.

'Well maybe one of these days I'll carry out that threat.' Chris couldn't help but smile when he saw the rest of his men moving towards the three remaining criminals. Everyone was okay.

'Everyone okay?' Nathan Jackson asked his usual question.

A mixture of groans answered him.

'I was only asking.'

'You always ask Nathan,' Chris grimaced at the thought of Nathan hovering over him if he had turned out to be injured, 'and we always tell you the same thing. We're fine.'

'Yeah, but most of the time you're lying.' Nathan growled.

'That's because you're not a very good doctor and we don't want you touching us.' Chris retorted.

Jackson, a man originally programmed to be a medical surgeon had decided not to go along with the order of things and work as a doctor. Instead, he had travelled around the newly occupied planets and worked where he was needed. It was at one of these locations that someone had tried to kill him. Chris and his team had saved his life. The decision to stay with the group had then been an easy one.

'Ungrateful bastards.'

'Buck,' Chris called to him, 'give those three the usual speech and let them go. They're not worth anything to us but if we see them again, they're dead men.'

'I think you just gave them the speech cowboy.' Buck smiled at his long time friend.

'Son-of-a . . ..' Chris growled between clenched teeth. What was it with these guys that they always had to call him cowboy?

'I'll take what we need from the bounty so we can leave.' Nathan grabbed Josiah's arm and pulled him towards the body lying on the ground a few feet away.

'I'm going to check out this other guy. Put a face to the arrogant idiot.' Chris announced to the group.

'There's nothing you can do to him now, Chris.' Vin followed him to make sure he went to the right corpse.

They stepped around the crates to find four bodies. Tanner led him to the farthest one away from them. Chris stood looking down at the man. The head had rolled onto the injured shoulder. The right arm lay at his side while the left lay above his head. The legs were slightly spread, the right knee bent so the heel touched the calf of the other leg. Blood had soaked the ill-fitting white cotton shirt.

Vin had been right, the man did look sick, his skin was almost white, as though he had never seen the sun. The body was thin but slightly toned. He had been in good condition once but for some reason only known to the dead man, his condition had become poor.

Chris squatted on his heels and reached forward to check for a pulse. There wasn't one, not that he expected to find one. The flesh was warm, an indication that the human had only stopped breathing within the last few minutes.

'He's dead.'

'I could have told you that!' Vin took the opportunity to roll his eyes while his boss wasn't looking.

'I saw that!'

'Saw what?' Vin's face was a picture of pure innocence.

'I'm not an idiot. I know that all of you pull faces at me behind my back.'

'I didn't pull a face.' Vin answered truthfully.

Chris stopped staring at the corpse and turned his head so he could glare at Vin instead. 'Then what did you do?'

'I didn't pull a face.'

'What in the hell did you do!'

'Rolled my eyes.' Vin winced and stepped back at the same time.

'Next time you do that, I'm going to fix them into position so they stay that way until the day you die, which won't be
very long.' Chris threatened him.

'Okay, sure, won't do it again cowboy.' Vin couldn't stop the smile from creeping onto his face, his pale blue eyes flashed with amusement.

Chris decided that he was, after all, going to kill Tanner. There wasn't a man in this universe that pissed him off more than Tanner did. The body at his feet had the potential to give Vin a run for his money, but now he was dead. Chris then lifted the eyelids so he could look into the green eyes. They were green all right, a brilliant deep green that he had never seen before. Even his own eyes weren't that green.

'Pity.' Chris lowered the eyelids. 'Someone's going to take these eyes out and sell them for a hefty price.'

'Yeah,' Vin agreed with him.

'Chris,' Nathan's voice got his attention, 'got the chip, we can go now.'

'Maybe we should take his, find out who he was.' Chris nodded to the corpse.

'Why?' Vin frowned at Chris.

'I don't know.' Larabee stood up and kept his gaze on the dead man's face. Good-looking guy Vin had said. 'The bounty shot him for a reason, maybe the answer's in his file.'

'Don't Chris.' Vin gripped his friend's shoulder. 'You didn't know him and you don't need to know him. He was a small time criminal getting paid to help protect the bounty. That's all, you don't need to know anything else.'

'Just curious that's all.' Chris allowed Vin to pull him away so they could join the rest of the group.

'I know.'

'Damn asshole pissed me off just like you do.' Chris chuckled.

'Thought you said I was the best.'

'You are, but that guy could have been just as good if not better.'

'Guess I better start putting in some practice then.'

'You do and you're a dead man.' Chris threatened him again.

'If I had a dollar for every time you said that to me, I'd have seven hundred and twenty three dollars.'

Chris violently pushed Tanner out of his way. 'JD, contact the Authorities in this place and let them know that there are some bodies here that need to be taken care of.'

'Sure thing boss.'

They left the area and the bodies behind and headed for the nearest alcoholic establishment to celebrate another successful operation, one among many.

Two


Suddenly his heart began to beat painfully against his chest. Lungs that had been starved of oxygen for more than twenty minutes gulped in the limited air that was available to them. Panic threatened to take control of his senses. He couldn't allow that to happen, it would cause him to lose all control of his abilities; what control he had left that was. Small breaths, he had to take small breaths so his lungs would catch up, they just needed a few minutes.

His eyes slowly blinked opened then closed quickly. He waited a few more seconds then tried again. All he could see was the white plastic sheet that covered him. I'm in the morgue already? Usually they don't clean up so quickly.
The smell of Infamel (the liquid used to protect bodies from decomposition) assaulted him. He gagged on the vomit that rose into his throat. Why did it have to be like this all the time? He forced himself to sit up so he wouldn't choke on what threatened to erupt from his stomach.

The sheet fell away from his face and bright lights caused a blinding headache to begin immediately. He closed his eyes, hoping the headache would ease but it didn't. At least the pain in his shoulder wasn't bad yet but it would get a lot worse once the drug in his system wore off.

He hadn't expected to be shot. Things had been going fine until Halis turned on him, accusing him of working for the other side. He denied it of course but Halis wouldn't listen. There was no way he could have saved himself from the bullet. The only thing he could have hoped for was that it didn't take his life. ORD, the illegal drug he had injected thirty minutes before the bounty hunters had cornered them was dangerous enough, but to throw in a bullet wound on top of it; he was lucky that his body was able to start breathing again.

After a matter of minutes, he decided that it was time to move before the pain did become worse. He had to find somewhere to hide so he could take care of his wound. Once his shoulder was taken care of, he was going to take a break. Damn Travis and his job. He needed time away so he could gain his health back. He'd been doing this shit for way too long now.

He opened his eyes and quickly scanned the room to find the other bodies that he knew were the men who were had been paid to help Halis escape from the bounty hunters. It had been his job to make sure the bounty team didn't succeed. Again, he failed to do his job.

Once the dizziness passed, he slipped off the metal bed and allowed his feet to touch the floor. He gripped the bed to steady himself as another wave of nausea took control of him. When it had cleared a second time, he lifted his shirt so he could check his wound. Ouch! It couldn't have missed his heart by much. His arm reached over his shoulder to check for an exit wound. This wasn't good; no exit wound, the bullet was still in there. There was a chance he wasn't going to survive this one.

He moved slowly and carefully to the door. After creating a small gap, he poked his head out into the corridor. When he knew the area was clear, he left the cold room. He didn't know how long it was going to take to find a hiding spot and he didn't have a lot of time left. He was going to have to push his body past its physical limits to get anywhere.

Five minutes later and he was using the wall for support. The pain in his skull and shoulder had worsened. Sweat caused his clothing to cling to his body, revealing the thin frame beneath the material. He wasn't going to be able to do it. If he were in this condition after five minutes then he would be dead when he reached his planned destination.

His body slid to the floor. This was where he was going to die. He didn't want this. He hadn't wanted this life. But it had been either this or be classed as a criminal and he knew what happened to criminals. No, this wasn't the way he wanted to die. It wasn't the dying part that he was afraid of; it was the idea of dying alone that terrified him.

Voices caused his head to lift. The sight before him scared the shit out of him. Larabee and his men were walking towards him. He froze where he was, his body refusing to obey his brain's instructions. In a few seconds, they would see him. Then what? Would they shoot first then ask questions later. He knew of Larabee's reputation. Chris Larabee was a hard, cold man. His attitude was well known within criminal circles. The man would just as easily kill you than look at you.

He no longer had the strength to run away from the physical violence that he knew was going to take place. So instead, he allowed his head to fall so his face was hidden. Maybe they would walk straight past him without a glance. It was his only hope.


Three


Chris Larabee ignored the man on the floor and walked past him but he stopped when he realised that Vin Tanner was no longer by his side. Impatiently, he turned around to demand what was keeping him. A frown creased his handsome features when he noticed Vin staring at the stranger who was sitting with his knees against his chest and his head down, the man obviously didn't want to be noticed.

'Vin?' he didn't get an immediate response so he waited.

Vin Tanner knew that he'd seen this man before. The chestnut hair, the clothing and the body's frame beneath the material were also familiar to him. His eyes took in everything that was available for him to see, including the blood on the right shoulder . . .

No, it couldn't be, that guy was dead.

He'd seen the body himself and there had been no pulse. Tanner knelt down knowing that his friends were watching him. They would be ready to protect him if he needed it. His right hand reached forward, took the chin and lifted it upwards. Green eyes started back at him. It was the dead guy.

'Chris this . . .' but that was as far as he got.

Vin's first instinct was to grab his shin after the boot connected with it but the pain wasn't bad, only because he knew that the guy who kicked him didn't have enough strength to put behind the blow. He stepped after the man who was now crawling frantically away from him. Vin placed a boot on the man's back and pushed down hard enough to force the man onto the ground, stopping his forward movement.

'What's going on Vin?'

Vin turned and smiled at his friend. 'This is the dead guy.'

'What?' Chris stood beside Tanner and looked down at the man under Vin's foot.

Intense green eyes were now glaring at Vin, if there was any fear it had disappeared quickly.

Chris immediately recognised the man for who he was.

'He was dead.' Chris couldn't believe it.

'Yeah he was.' Vin agreed with him.

'So why isn't he now?'

'Why are you asking me that?' Tanner growled at him.

'Because you're the one that found him,' was the simple answer, 'if you hadn't stopped like you always do, I wouldn't be standing here feeling like an idiot.'

'You feel like an idiot?' Buck asked him with a smile.

'This guy was dead, I felt for a pulse and couldn't find one. He was dead, and now he isn't. That makes me look like an idiot.' Chris turned to look at Buck. 'And wipe that damn smile off your face.'

'Get off him Vin.' Nathan ordered the sharp shooter.

Eyes that were now beginning to fill with confusion, moved to take in Nathan's form.

Nathan pulled the injured man up until he was in a sitting position. A quick examination told him that the man was near death. He obviously hadn't died before, but he would die this time without medical treatment.

'We need to get him somewhere, if we don't, he'll die.' Nathan informed Chris.

'No!' the weak voice surprised everyone.

'Can't I just shoot him?' Chris asked Nathan.

'No!' this time the voice sounded shocked.

'Chris . . . '

'He's a criminal Nathan, why waste your time healing him only so he could spend the rest of his life in jail.'

'So you just want to leave him here to die?' Josiah placed a hand on Chris's shoulder and looked down at the dying man. He saw the hatred in the green eyes that were staring up at Chris Larabee.

'Well, no, but . . .'

'I agree with Nathan.' Josiah commented.

'Why?' Chris demanded of him.

'Because it's the right thing to do.' the older man shrugged.

'The rest of you think the same way.' His men refused to look at him. They were cowards all of them. 'Why not just hand him over to the medical staff here and let them take care of him.'

'No!' there was that damn voice again.

'We're not asking you.' Chris growled at the unknown man.

'Chris, we're doing this and we're doing it now.' Nathan nodded to Josiah and Vin.

The two men grabbed an arm each and began to haul the man to his feet. It wasn't easy because their burden was struggling to free himself from their grips.

'We're going to help you.' Josiah whispered into the man's ear. 'Stop fighting us!'

He wouldn't listen, he couldn't. These men were putting his life in danger. Word would be going around now that he was dead. This would allow him to take on a new identity so he could infiltrate another gang and gain information that was needed to stop the Rebellion. If the wrong person were to see him or hear that he was still alive, his life wouldn't be worth living. He would become a wanted man himself.

The pain tugging at his shoulder was becoming worse. The effects of the drug were wearing off and soon and he would feel nothing but pain and then death.

'Stop struggling.' Nathan ordered the man.

'He doesn't seem to have a lot to say anymore, does he?' Chris nudged Vin.

'I wouldn't either if I was in the same condition as him.' Vin grimaced as he fought to keep hold of the man.

'Does that mean he won't stop talking when Nathan fixes him up?'

'Probably.'

Nathan turned around but continued to walk backwards. He watched his patient's features. There was pain in the man's expression but not enough. The stranger shouldn't even be able to walk. Vin was also tugging at the wounded shoulder but the man wasn't reacting to the pain that Vin was causing him.

'Why aren't you in pain?' Nathan decided to ask him.

'Where are you taking me?' the man answered with a question of his own.

'We're taking you to our ship. Why aren't you feeling any pain?'

'Are we leaving this god forsaken planet?'

'Yes. Why aren't you feeling any pain?' Nathan asked again.

Chris felt like hitting the stranger. Couldn't he answer a simple question?

'What are you going to do with me?'

'Take care of you, and then when you're better, we'll discuss it. Why aren't you feeling any pain?'

'I will be in a minute.' the injured man whispered but the others heard him clearly.

Chris rolled his eyes.

'Why?' Nathan stopped walking.

He looked up at the dark man but refused to answer the question. There was no way he was going to give away his trade secrets. Pain suddenly erupted in his shoulder as the last of the ORD finally left his system. He tried to double over in an effort to ease the pain but he didn't get very far, the arms holding him pulled him back upright causing the pain to become even worse.

'Shit!' the words came out through gritted teeth.

'So now you're in pain.' Nathan stopped and crossed his arms. 'Why?'

A foot began to pound the floor while the body leaned closer to the sharpshooter to ease the pull on the injury. Eyes were clenched tightly and the head fell against Tanner's chest.

'Move!' Nathan ordered his two friends. 'Now!'

'I still say we just shoot him.' Chris commented as he began to follow the others back to the ship. He noticed that no one seemed to be listening so he tried again. 'You know, I keep getting this feeling that shooting him is going to save me a lot of problems . . . Is anyone actually listening to me?'

Nope, of course not, why would I think they would. So what was new? Nothing, absolutely nothing!


Four


When Vin and Josiah laid the stranger down on the medical table, Nathan immediately began to take the man's vital signs. They weren't good, which meant the man was closer to death than he thought he was. The medically programmed expert cut away clothing to reveal a form that would have eventually died of starvation. Even though there was still some muscle tone, the ribs could be easily seen as well as the pelvic bones. The man was underweight. Nathan couldn't understand why. There was always plenty of food around, the government made sure of that. No one was supposed to starve and yet this man seemed to have been doing that for a few months now.

His large hands moved to the shoulder wound. It was nasty because he had been too close to the shooter. The bullet was deep in the shoulder just above the heart. Jackson nodded to Josiah Sanchez who knew the simple body movement would tell him to begin getting everything ready for an operation.

'JD,' Chris stood by the door with his arms crossed against his chest, he didn't like seeing anyone in such a condition as the man on the table. Everyone knew what it was like before the Third War. So many humans died of starvation and disease. After the war, it was decided that one government would rule the Earth. Everybody would be fed, housed, and given medical treatment. They knew it would cost a lot of money but now that weapons were no longer being made, there was more money that could go towards helping each other. 'Scan his chip, find out who he is.'

'Yes Sir.' JD ran from the room, knowing that he only had a few minutes before Nathan would kick them out and not allow them back in.

Chris smiled, JD was the only one in the group that referred to him as Sir, well sometimes anyway. He also had the nasty habit of calling him chief. At least the kid didn't call him cowboy like the others.

'What do you think Nathan?' Vin asked from his position at the side of the table.

'He'd be lucky to survive.' Nathan shrugged. 'Bullet's close to the heart, he looks like he hasn't eaten much in a long time, his body isn't healthy enough to fight against his impending death.'

'But you'll do what you can won't you?'

'You know I will Vin.'

'Ready when you are Nathan.' Josiah informed him.

'Okay guys, out you go . . . '

JD ran back in, quickly dragged the Informer across the chip that would have been placed at the base of the skull when the man was born then ran out again.

'Let's see what we can do for him Nathan.' Josiah injected five ccs of Equiten to make sure the patient wouldn't wake during surgery.

Once Nathan cleansed his hands, he began his attempt to keep the man on the operating table alive.

***

Chris paced the length and width of the ship's computer room. The information he wanted would only take a matter of seconds. He could have sat on one of the two long bench seats or on the two chairs that were on either side of JD but he didn't. He could have stared at the millions of stars through one of the windows but he didn't. He could have crawled the high walls like Buck seemed to be doing but he didn't.

Chris Larabee preferred to pace; he wasn't known as a patient man. He watched as JD entered the scanning information into the computer and then turned to pace the other way. A few seconds, he could wait a few seconds.

'Got it.' JD announced.

'And?' Chris stopped in the middle of the room and turned back to face JD.

JD read for a few seconds then began to read aloud when he heard the impatient stamping of Chris's foot.

'His name is Standish, Ezra Standish . . . Authority Agent Ezra Standish.' JD said with wonder.

'What?' Buck demanded.

'He's AA?' Vin couldn't help but chuckle at the thought.

'He's an infiltrator.' JD continued. 'He gets in with the bad guys to get informa . . . '

'We know what an infiltrator is JD.' Chris stopped the explanation. 'What else?'

'There isn't a lot really. Thirty-four years old, and he was born on Earth. Not many people born there anymore.' JD shifted through some useless information. 'He works under Travis.'

'Interesting.' Vin commented.

'Yeah,' Chris added, 'explains why Halis shot him. The guy must have blown his cover.'

'It would be the first time.' JD told them. 'Says here he's had a perfect record so far. All the information he's gathered has led to a bounty being collected.'

'Does it say why he's in such poor physical condition?' Vin asked JD.

'Says here he suffers from Dimension Affliction.' JD answered Vin.

'He gets sick travelling through space?' Buck frowned in amazement. 'Why doesn't he just get himself the antidote?'

'Probably for the same reason that he doesn't eat.' Vin suggested.

'Why would someone refuse what's right in front of them?' JD shook his head.

'We can find out if Nathan is able to pull him through.' Chris folded his arms and allowed his head to fall towards his chest. A dozen or more questions went through his mind.

The others stood around watching him. They knew not to disturb him while he was thinking. If they interrupted his train of thought, he wouldn't be able to get it back.

'Okay, we're going back to base.' Chris ordered them.

Buck followed Chris out of the room and down the corridor to the flight deck. The two men walked down the main corridor that ran down the middle of the craft. Long windows on either side showed millions of bright stars. They entered the flight deck, both men sitting in the only two chairs available.

'You going to hand him over to Travis?' Buck asked.

'Yeah, the sooner the better . . . there's something about that guy I don't like or trust.' Chris growled while he switched on numerous buttons.

'You haven't even met him yet, none of us have.'

'I have a gut feeling.' Chris smiled at him. 'Call it instinct, call it whatever you like. I don't like him.'

'You don't even feel sorry for him?'

Chris gunned the engine before he answered. The ship moved quickly out of the docking bay and into space.

'Only if he gives us a good explanation as to why he blew his cover.'

'What about the way he looks?'

'Only got himself to blame for that Buck. You know there's plenty of food for everyone and medications. He's in that condition because he wants to be.'

'Yeah, whatever.' Buck muttered in response.

'JD!' Chris yelled out.

'Why don't you just use the radio!' Buck slammed his hand against the intercom.

'Because I like yelling.'

'Well, I don't like you yelling in my ear!'

'JD!'

'What!' JD's voice yelled back.

'You got those coordinates in yet?'

'I may be a computer genius Chris, but I'm not that quick!'

'I was told you were the best!'

'Would you please stop shouting!' Buck growled.

'I am the best! They're in!'

Chris leaned closer to Buck. 'Thanks JD!'

'Son-of-a-bitch.' Buck rubbed his ear.

Chris engaged the autopilot and jumped from his seat knowing that the craft was in safe hands. The computer would notify them of any other traffic in the area. They now had fourteen hours to relax and catch up on some sleep and the work that needed to be done on the ship; which they had secretly named 'Space Cowboys'.

Five


'Standish! . . . Ezra! . . . Come on, you need to wake up . . . Standish!' Nathan had been trying for at least ten minutes to wake up his patient. The fact that he had been unable to elicit a response from Standish made his chance of recovery even more doubtful.

'Is he going to wake up?' JD asked from his position by the door.

'I don't know JD. He should have woken up at least an hour ago.' Nathan answered while he checked Standish's vitals again. His condition had improved since the operation.

'Can't you just wake him up?'

'I tried already.' Nathan smiled up at JD.

'You think maybe . . . that he's dead.' the younger man joked.

Nathan frowned. 'He was before.'

'I was kidding Nathan.'

'I wasn't.' Nathan moved away from the bed. 'I think we should just let him wake up in his own time.'

'You going to leave him alone?'

'Yes I am.' Nathan activated the motion detector. 'This will let me know when he's waking up.'

'I can stay with him if you want.' JD offered.

'No, I'm sure Chris has some jobs for you to do.' Nathan closed the door after JD followed him out of the room.
'Done them.'

'Then go and bother someone else and leave me alone.' Nathan pushed JD away and glared at him until he disappeared from his sight.


***

Damn it! How the hell was he going to get out of here when there was a motion detector in the room? He'd been playing dead for over an hour, hoping they would leave him alone long enough for him to gain his freedom. Now he had no other choice but to find another way, and he had to wake up to do that.

All he had to do was move and the one called Nathan would return. He allowed his head to roll to the side and he opened his eyes to survey the room while pain stabbed at his shoulder. There was one exit. His eyes continued to study the area he was in. The only thing close to him that he could use as a weapon was a glass jug on a small cabinet by the bed. Ezra had no intention of killing anyone but he was desperate to get away from these men. He rested his good arm on his chest in preparation for his escape.

It was only a matter of minutes before the door opened. His eyes quickly moved to the form that was walking towards him. The black man was bigger than he remembered.

'You're finally awake, I was starting to get worried about you.' Nathan smiled and moved to the bed.

Ezra didn't hesitate, he couldn't, and he had to do this or die. He reached for the jug and when he had a strong grip, he swung it in the other man's direction. The glass jug shattered with a sickening sound when it struck Nathan's skull.
Standish didn't even wait to see if Nathan was going to stay where he fell. There wasn't time. With a shaking hand, he pulled the attachments from his body and dragged himself from the bed. There were no clothes on his body. One quick glance at the unmoving form on the floor gave him his answer. He struggled to remove the clothes from the large body. Ten minutes had almost passed before he had himself dressed. The clothes were big, too big. He tore a strip off the bed sheet using his free hand and strong teeth and tied it around his waist to stop the pants from falling down. When he was sure he was ready, he stepped up to the door. He leaned against the doorframe and waited until his body was prepared to agree to continue standing up on its own. Another five minutes and it was.

He started out slowly, keeping his back and right arm against the wall. His green eyes continued to glance behind him to make sure there was no one sneaking up on him. The long corridor made it hard for a person to hide from their enemy. Ezra stopped when he both felt and heard the soft humming of the ship's engine. They were on the move. How was he going to get away while they were travelling through space. Maybe there was a lifeboat on board; there would have to be. But how was he going to find it, if this corridor was any indication, the ship was pretty large. He was running out of time. They would know soon that he had escaped and they would be looking for him.

Something had gone wrong but he was yet to figure it out. He was sure it was nothing he had done. If that was the case, and he was sure it was, it meant that someone else had broken his cover. The only people who knew who he was and what he did were Travis and a small group of people that worked in Travis' office. Someone gave the wrong person his true identity. The thing he had to work out was if it was for money or if it was a mistake. He settled for someone selling the information. This made it even more important for him to get away. If Travis' office found out that, he was still alive then the same person might sell that information. His life wouldn't be worth living; not that it was worth living now.

He had to keep moving, he couldn't stay here. The weakness he was beginning to feel told him that he didn't have much time. The sound of loud voices behind him made him move even though he didn't want to. They were now searching for him. A door appeared in front of him and he checked to see if it would open. It wouldn't.

'Standish!'

Ezra Standish spun around to find Chris Larabee standing at the other end of the passageway. He turned again and began to run. Fear gripped his heart for the first time in many years. Chris Larabee was a man to be feared. He heard his name being called again but this time it was different voice. He ignored it and kept moving. His breath started to come short and fast. A strong current of pain was developing in his chest and left shoulder. He couldn't keep going like this. He had to find a place to hide. There was another door up ahead. He quickly glanced over his shoulder. In a few more seconds, Larabee would be on top of him. This time the door opened for him. Ezra stepped into the room and saw a young man sitting in a chair by a window.

'Ezra!' JD was surprised at first then he became both confused and concerned. 'What are you doing, you should be in bed. Did Nathan let you . . .?'

Ezra choked off the words when he pulled the young man from the chair and wrapped his arm around JD's throat and turned him to face the door.

'Ezra . . . what . . .?'

'Shut up!' Standish growled into his ear.

'We're not going to hurt you Ezra, we just want to help.'

'I told you to shut up!' Ezra squeezed tighter so JD would have to struggle to breath.

The door automatically opened and Chris Larabee stepped into the room with Vin Tanner at his side.

'Come anywhere near me and I'll snap his neck.' Ezra warned him. It wasn't something he was sure he could do. At the moment, he was using all of his strength to stand on his feet.

'Did anyone tell you that you have a very irritating accent?' Chris asked him.

'No, most women like it.'

'Oh, Buck's going to like this guy.' Vin chuckled.

'Is there something wrong with you people?' Ezra asked while he watched Chris move to a chair and drop himself down into it. 'I just threatened to kill Mr. Dunne and you don't seem to care.'

'You know his name then?' Chris raised an eyebrow at Standish.

'I know who all of you are. You have quite the reputation.'

'Did you blow your cover back there or did someone at the base decided they needed some extra money?' it was Vin who asked this question.

'I'm leaving.'

'What makes you think you're going to get very far?' Chris stood up again and took a few steps closer to Standish.

'I don't believe that I'll be able to take a step towards that door,' Ezra nodded towards the door behind Vin, 'before you shoot and kill me.'

'So even though you know the drill you're still going to try and leave.'

'Yes.'

'You saying that you want to die?' Vin frowned at the man who was close to his own age.

'I'm a dead man anyway.'

'What makes you think that?' Chris crossed his arms.

Ezra eased up on JD when extra weight began to pull him down. 'It's obvious that someone wants me dead. I don't know who and I don't know why. If I take a step now you'll kill me. I think I prefer a quick and painless death rather than a drawn out painful one.' he took a step towards Chris.

'I'm not going to kill you Standish.' Chris shrugged.

'You're not!' Vin voiced his shock. 'You kept saying that you wanted to shoot him.'

'Like he said.' Ezra added.

'I have my reasons.'

'And what reasons do you have to keep me alive?' Ezra frowned in confusion.

'I'm not going to tell you.'

Ezra glanced at Vin. The man smiled at him. This wasn't right. The situation was confusing the hell out of him. It was also scaring him. A trickle of sweat running down his back caused him to shiver.

'Why don't you let go of JD, he's going a bit purple and we'll take you back to the medical room so Nathan can take care of you.' Chris suggested.

'Shit!' they didn't know about what he had done to Nathan Jackson. Now he knew why they were being so nice to him. If they had known, he would be dead already. 'No.'

'You're going to fall down any minute now anyway.' Chris assured him.

'I think I killed Mr. Jackson.' Ezra took another step closer to what he hoped would be his killer.

'You think?'

'I didn't stop to check.' Ezra smiled. 'Don't you recognise his clothes . . . I'm wearing them.'

'I just thought you both had bad taste.'

'Are you sick or something?' Ezra asked Larabee

'What do you mean?'

'Are you sick mentally or are you just the cold bastard that everyone claims that you are?'

'Nathan's not dead but he does have a hell of a headache and he's pretty pissed off at you right now.' Vin explained.

'He's alright?' Ezra couldn't stop the sigh of relief that escaped.

'He's fine.' Chris confirmed.

Ezra no longer knew what he was doing. These two men weren't angry about what he had done and what he was now doing. They weren't willing to kill him, they seemed to want to help him. He'd never solicited help in his entire life. He was taught to look after number one and that's what he was going to do.

'If you have no intention of killing me, then allow me to leave.'

'No.' was Chris's simple reply.

'Either kill me or let me go!' Ezra growled at him.

'What are you going to do, fight your way out of here. You're not in any condition to do that.'

Ezra let go of JD and allowed the younger man to fall to the floor. He ignored the sounds of him dragging fresh air into his lungs. Instead, he took another step forward.

'Why don't we find out.'

'You want to fight me?' Chris asked with surprise.

'If that's what it takes to get out of here then yes.'

'I'm not going to fight you.'

'How the hell am I supposed to get out of here if you won't play by the rules!' Ezra practically yelled at him. 'This isn't the way it's supposed to go.' he began to pace while Chris and Vin watched in amusement. JD just continued to stare up at him. 'You were supposed to believe that I was going to kill him. You should have let me go, or killed me before I killed Mr. Dunne.'

'My name's JD.'

Ezra stopped and looked down at JD. 'I don't care what your name is! You didn't exactly play your part either you know. You were supposed to struggle, kick me in the knee or bite my arm, something, anything to get away . . . '

'You weren't going to kill me,' JD smiled up at him, 'you don't have it in you.'

'What the hell makes you think that?' Ezra was starting to believe that he was still unconscious and that he was dreaming this disaster. This sort of thing had never happened before. People believed his threats. Not once did he have to back down from anyone or anything. He was capable of terrifying people with a look or the sound of his voice but not these people.

JD shrugged.

Ezra turned his attention back to Larabee.

'And now you won't fight me. What is this? Be nice day? Or am I still asleep and this is some terrible nightmare?'

'You talk a lot, you know that.' Vin was now standing with his hands on his hips. He was quickly losing patience with Standish.

'You have no choice Standish, you're coming back to the medical room with us.' Chris told him.

'Yeah,' JD agreed, 'you don't look so good.'

'I feel fine.' Ezra argued even though he didn't feel fine, he felt like death walking and he knew he was going to collapse at any moment.

'No you don't.' Chris growled. 'Now you either come with us or we'll drag you there.'

'Looks like we're going to have a fight after all.' Ezra smiled.

'There's three of us and one of you.' Chris pointed out.

'That would be unfair.'

'You saying that we're going to cheat?'

'You are going to cheat, you just said so!' Ezra was beginning to become severely aggravated with the two men in front of him. Patience was something he was well known for but these men were pushing him to his limit.

'I don't cheat.' Chris shrugged.

Ezra could do nothing but glare at the blond man for a few seconds. 'I guess its stalemate then.'

'I don't mind waiting until you fall flat on your face.' Chris replied.

'Then we wait.' Ezra stepped back and sat down in the chair that he had pulled JD from.

'We wait.' Chris agreed.

'Stubborn bastard isn't he.' Vin commented to Chris.

'Look who's talking!' Chris retorted.

'I'm not stubborn!'

'And neither am I.' Ezra spat out.

Chris glared at Vin first, and then at Ezra. Neither man blinked. He was in hell; he had to be. Why didn't he just shoot Standish when he had wanted to?

'You want some water Ezra?' JD stood up and made his way to the jug of water near his bed.

'No!' Chris and Ezra spoke in unison.

'You're supposed to be on our side JD!' Chris couldn't believe JD was willing to help the enemy.

'Just trying to help Chris. I mean, he doesn't look so good.' JD defended himself with confidence.

'May I ask what time it is?' Ezra looked up at Chris.

'No.' Chris answered.

'It's 14:02.' JD checked his watch.

'JD!' Chris growled at him.

'What?' JD raised his hands in the air, a look of innocence on his face. He widened his brown eyes at Chris.

'Get out!' Chris pointed to the door. 'Now JD before I throw you out.'

'Just trying to help.'

'Yeah but you're not helping!'

'Fine . . . I'll go check on Nathan then.' JD moved closer to Ezra. 'Chris is very short on patience, so if you piss him off enough, he's likely to just let you go.'

'JD!'

'I'm going . . . I'm going.'

JD marched out of his quarters, turned left, and began to walk to the medical room. He moved quickly, his hands in his pockets, and he whistled a tune that his mother use to sing to him when he was a child. He only stopped whistling when he entered the medical room.

Josiah looked up and saw his young friend enter the room. 'JD, listen, Standish hit . . . '

'I know Josiah,' JD lifted his hand in the air in an effort to stop Josiah from explaining something he already knew.

'He's in my room with Chris and Vin. They're having a standoff.'

'A what? And why?' Nathan asked him.

JD took some time to look at Nathan. The dark man sat on the bed with his hand holding a cold compress against the side of his head. A grimace of pain covered his features. JD smiled at the sheet that was wrapped around Nathan, covering his exposed flesh.

'You okay Nathan?'

'Just fine! He hit me with that glass jug. Apparently, it broke on impact. I was lucky that none of the glass stuck in my skull. As it was, I cut my foot when I got up. Can you believe it! I saved that guy's life and he does this to me.'

'Well, he just about choked me.' JD shrugged as though it meant nothing.

'What?' Buck jumped off the bed that he'd been sitting on.

JD hadn't seen him when he entered the room. 'It's okay Buck, he didn't mean anything by it. He didn't hurt me.'

'Why'd he do it in the first place then?' Buck moved forward and started to check JD's neck for bruising.

'To get away from Chris and Vin I would say.'

'You said they were having a standoff?' Josiah pushed him for more information.

'Yeah, Ezra wants Chris to shoot him, Chris won't. Ezra wants to fight his way out because Chris won't shoot him but Chris won't do that either. So Chris is waiting for Ezra to collapse and Ezra's waiting to leave.'

'Really.' Josiah shook his head.

'Yeah . . . don't know who's going to win, Ezra seems to be pretty stubborn.'

'Buck.' Josiah stormed through the doorway.

Buck winked at JD and ran after Josiah.





Part One | Part Two


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