Striving to Become
An Earth - Final Conflict short story by Tina Price

Preview: Boone comes down with the flu, an event which threatens to expose the fact that his implant has been tampered with.

Disclaimer: Earth - Final Conflict and all characters therein are the property of the Tribune Entertainment Company.

Authors note: This story takes place sometime between 'The Scarecrow’s Return' and 'Sandoval's Run'. Criticism and advice are appreciated! Contact me at the above e-mail address.

Striving to Become

Image is the Property of Tribune Entertainment

         Ronald Sandoval hurried through the Taelon embassy towards his Companion's - for want of a better term - office. Many months of planning were about to come to an end with the opening of the Taelon school for gifted children four days hence and he knew that Da'an wished to discuss the opening ceremony.
         As usual, the thought of spending some time with the North American Companion filled him with joy. To serve the Taelons and in particular, Da'an, was all he wished in all the world.
        Best of all, he had not seen William Boone in the last week. He smiled as he reflected upon the man's absence. It had been an unexpected pleasure to have all of Da'an's attention again.
        Amazing really, that the D.C. Companion had not sent for his security chief. He rarely went longer than a few days without summoning the tall ex-police chief into his presence - a fact which grated upon Sandoval’s pride. In his opinion, Da'an was showing Boone a marked preference which seemed highly unusual for a Taelon. was not his place to question his Companion's actions.
        Two strides later, he entered Da'an's presence.
        "Ah, Agent Sandoval..." the pale, graceful alien said from the throne-like chair in which he sat. "It pleases me to see you."
        "As it pleases me to be here," the ex-FBI Agent responded. "How may I be of use to you?"         
        "The Synod requests an update on the opening ceremony for our school. Tell me, will the ceremony commence at the time we discussed?" Da'an punctuated his question with a delicate hand gesture.
        "Yes," Sandoval nearly bowed. "Every major network will be covering it beginning at ten a.m."         
        Da'an tilted his head as the corners of his mouth lifted ever so slightly. The media were an important element in his kind's quest to garner human approval. "The Synod will be most pleased to hear of this," he said to the implant before him, amused by Sandoval's reaction to his implied praise. "Now, tell me of the security arrangements," he added. "Where is Boone?"
        Sandoval's face fell. Boone - the conversation always turned toward Boone! With an effort, he schooled his face and answered. "I'm sorry, Da'an, but I haven't heard from him in the last two days. He did tell me on Tuesday that everything was nearly set on his end..." He stopped when he saw that he had lost the Taelon's attention.
        With a wave of his arm, Da'an opened a data stream to Boone's office.
        It was Lili Marquette, Boone's personal assistant and Taelon shuttle pilot, who responded. "Da'an!" she was surprised by the unexpected call. Sandoval usually handled such things for the Companion. "How may I help you?" she managed to continue in a tone of proper respect.
        "Where is my implant, Boone?" The alien asked as he tilted his head, looking at her from the corners of his eyes. The look gave her the always reminded her of a hawk eyeing a particularly plump mouse.
        "Uh..." Lili tried to come up with something to stall the companion. To reveal the truth behind Boone's absence would surely place him in jeopardy, but to be caught in a lie would make things worse. She quickly realized that she could not come up with anything adequate. Boone had told Doors that he had come to trust this particular seemed that they were all about to find out if that trust was justified. "He's at home...ill," she admitted and had the satisfaction of seeing a fleeting expression of surprise cross Da'an's face.
        "Please elaborate further," the lithe companion said as he blinked several times in succession - a sure sign that he was confused by something she had said.
        "William Boone is home sick with the flu," she ground out and was amazed to see Da'an 'blush-up-blue', as Boone called it. He was most definitely rattled by what he had heard - rattled enough to temporarily lose control of the illusion he projected which made him appear more 'human'. Lili continued. "He is hopeful that he will be recovered in time for the ceremony on Monday," she added.
        "Thank-you, Captain," the Companion managed just before cutting off the data stream.
        Lili stared at the blank screen. She ought to warn Boone, but she'd have to do so in person...she did not want Sandoval to trace her call and inform Da'an that she was relating their conversation to the Security Chief. It would look...suspicious, to say the least. She glanced at her watch. Her shuttle was being serviced and it would take her thirty minutes to get over to Boone's place by car. Lili headed quickly out of the office.

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        Back in his office, Da'an sat motionless in his seat, head bent down as though he were contemplating his knees. He did not so much as blink for the next thirty seconds.
        Sandoval stood quietly to one side, unsure of what to do. It would be extremely rude of him to leave until Da'an actually dismissed him and yet he felt uncomfortable simply standing there waiting...         
        Da'an's head came up and his eyes turned toward the human as though he were aware of Sandoval's thoughts. "You may go, Agent Sandoval," he entoned in his beautiful, neutral tones.         
        "Yes, Da'an. Please call me if you should require anything else." Sandoval bowed and left the room after the companion nodded briefly to acknowledge his offer.
        With a wave of his arm, Da'an made the Taelon Synod Leader, Qu'on appear within the room via data stream technology. Da'an dropped his human-like appearance so that now only two blue, translucent beings were present.
        Qu'on spoke first. "I have sensed that you are disturbed by something. Will you share this with me?"
        "Our companion, Ne'eg, has recently approached me with a request," Da'an tilted his head downward. "I am uncertain of how to respond."
        "We are aware of Ne'eg's request to study the implant known as Boone. Do you have reservation's concerning this? Ne'eg has assured us that Boone shall not be harmed."
        Da'an raised his head. "I have come to know my implant well enough to predict his reaction to such an occurrence. He will not be pleased. I believe that such an examination will only serve to harm our relationship with Boone. We stand to lose more than we will gain from the procedure."         
        "Yet, your implant must acquiesce to your wishes in this matter. It is part of his implant's imperative."
        "Boone's implant has not prevented him from serving us in a highly individualistic way. Though he obeys the imperative, he does so in ways which he himself believes to be the correct way. His way has often proven to be the way to success for us. Would you jeopardize this in order to gain some data?"
        "You speak well of your implant's strengths, Da'an, and you are correct. Boone has proven himself invaluable to us. We will not force this issue. You may acquiesce to Ne'eg's request...or not, as you see fit."
        "I also wish to impart the news that our new school shall open on schedule." Da'an lowered his gaze in a gesture of subservience.
        "Excellent. We look forward to the opportunity to earn more of the community's support." Qu'on's holographic image faded out.
        When Da'an resumed his humanoid projection there was a rare smile upon his face, but he did not allow the moment to last long. When he contacted Sandoval his face was once more a smooth mask. "Agent Sandoval," he began as his aide's face appeared on the monitor before him. "Please meet me at the shuttle."
        Unwilling to elaborate further, he cut the transmission and rising from his seat, made his way slowly toward the upper part of the room.
        The Taelon companion to North America was carrying a small packet when he rendezvoused with Sandoval a short time later. He noted that his aide had the usual contingent of three guards with him.
        "May I ask where we are going?" Sandoval questioned.
        "I assume that you know the location of Boone's abode?" Da'an punctuated his question with a typical Taelon hand gesture.
        Sandoval looked thunderstruck. "Yes, but..."
        "Please enter the shuttle Agent Sandoval," the tall, graceful alien said, cutting off any protest his aide may have been about to make. He gestured toward the shuttle and Sandoval followed his guards inside.
        Da'an slowly entered the shuttle behind them and seated himself in the pilot's chair.
        Sandoval sulked in one of the rear seats. Never before had the companion honored someone by actually visiting their home. What was it about Boone that moved him to do so now? Sandoval himself had served his companion faithfully for several years before the cop had arrived on the scene, and yet it was Boone who had quickly become Da'an's... favorite.
        There was no justice in the world...
        The shuttle's engines roared to life and Sandoval was brought out of his morose contemplation when he realized that Da'an had spoken to him. "I'm sorry, Da'an. Would you repeat that?"
        "Please upload Boone's address to the shuttle guidance computer using your satellite up-link device."
        Sandoval did as he was instructed and the shuttle display changed to reflect the new destination.
        "Da'an, perhaps it would be best to allow Boone to recover in peace..." Sandoval advised.
        "I have much to impart to my implant, as well as a gift which I do believe that he would much rather receive now." Da'an glanced back at him. "You need not trouble yourself over this."
        Well, he had done it again. Poked his nose too far into Da'an's business and been reprimanded for it. Sandoval sighed. Companions were subtle creatures. He was certain that the guards had not picked up on the companion's disapproval...but he had. As usual, it hurt.

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        After pounding on William Boone's front door a few times, Lili rang the bell and was rewarded with a hoarse, "I'm coming already!" from the other side.
        A minute later the voice was heard again, this time from right behind the door. "Who is it?" it coughed.
        "Boone, it's me, Lili," she spoke up as he no doubt checked the peephole.
        The door was thrown open revealing a haggard and unshaven security chief, standing unsteadily in his bathrobe. As she began to move past him into the room beyond, Lili noticed as Boone's face registered sudden surprise. She turned to find Da'an himself behind her. He was accompanied by Sandoval and some guards, as usual.
        "Da'an?" Boone clutched at the doorframe for support.
        "I too have come to check upon your well-being," the Taelon responded. "May I enter your domicile?"
        "Of course..." Boone stepped back out of the way as Lili grasped his arm to help steady him.
        "Please remain here," Da'an commanded his aide and the guards before stepping forward. A crestfallen expression was clearly visible upon Sandoval's face as the door was swung shut behind the Companion.
        Sparing the Taelon but a small glance, Lili tugged at Boone's arm. "Come on, boss. You'd better get back in bed before you fall down."
        Without a word, he allowed her to guide him back toward his bedroom, as Da'an brought up the rear. Once there, he slid underneath the covers, bathrobe and all and let out a relieved sigh. His head was buzzing and his stomach was churning. He had not felt this badly in a very long time.
        Lili had obviously shown up to try to warn him that Da'an knew of his illness. This could very well turn out to be his last few moments of freedom. The synod, if they knew of this, would want him terminated...or worse - re-implanted. His stomach ache was rapidly worsening.
        "I was going to ask you if you were feeling any better, but I can see that there's been no improvement," Lili said as she moved a chair closer to his bed so that Da'an could have a seat. "I'll bet that you haven't been getting enough to drink either..." Her concern was evident in the tone of her voice.
        "I could use some tea..." Boone managed a weak smile.
        "Not a problem." Lili swung around to address Da'an. "I don't suppose that you'd like a cup?"         
        "No, thank-you, Captain," the companion responded.
        As Lili left the room, she shot Boone an I'm-sorry look.
        The Taelon took the seat next to Boone's bed. "It grieves me to see you in this condition, Boone," Da'an said as he lightly brushed his Security Chief's hand with his own before once more using it to gesture with. "Why did you not contact me?"
        "Da'an...I can't go interrupting your busy schedule just to inform you that I am ill..."
        "Ah, but this is news of great interest to me...You see, the cyber viral implant which you carry has been designed to destroy any other virus which might infect your system."
        Boone felt his blood run cold. Da'an had most likely figuring out that his implant had been tampered with. How could he explain this in a way which would protect the resistance and Dr. Belman?
        "Could it be that my implant is malfunctioning?" he said, hoping to throw the Taelon a red herring.
        "It is the least likely of the two explanations I have devised." Da'an stood and began to walk around the bedroom, admiring Boone's pictures and personal effects as he went.
        Boone closed his eyes and sighed. Da'an was talking as obliquely as usual, but there was little doubt that he was letting Boone know that he knew the truth. It was only a matter of time before The Taelon asked him to implicate his accessory.
        Perhaps he could do some damage control... find out how much Da'an would be willing to risk to keep him as his Chief of Security and Interspecies Relations. There was still so very much he did not know about the Taelons...
        "I have a question," he rasped out.
        "Please ask it." Da'an, who had completed his circuit of the room, made his way back to the chair.
        "Do all companions know what one knows?"
        Da'an sat down. "They do."
        "Does this sharing of information occur unconsciously, or do you simply choose to impart information to your fellows?"
        Da'an stared silently at him from the corners of his eyes, a Taelon gesture of distrust or stubbornness. Boone had become adept at reading his companion's expressions and suddenly felt sure that this was a question Da'an would not willingly answer.
        Before anything could be said on either side, Lili returned with a large cup of tea, which she set upon the end table.
        "Thanks, Lili."
        "Is there anything else you need before I leave? Medicine? Food?"
        "Ughh! Please don't mention that word!"
        "I'll be OK, Lili."
        "Are you leaving already, Captain?" Da'an asked.
        "Yeah." Lili replied, as she shoved her hands into her jeans pockets. "There are things I need to take care of back at the office. I just wanted to make sure that Boone was all right."
        In reality, she did not wish to be nearby if Da'an forced Boone to talk. She needed to get back to the resistance headquarters and fill Doors in on what was happening.
        "I thank you for looking after him," Da'an bowed slightly in his chair.
        "Hey, what are friends for?" With a reassuring pat on Boone's hand, she left the room.
        After a while, the North American Companion spoke. "My fellow companion, Ne'eg, finds you every bit as fascinating as the rest of the Synod. He asks my permission to study you, and in particular your implant."
        Boone was speechless. He could only stare at Da'an in shock.
        "I see that you grasp the ramifications of such a study." Da'an leaned back in his seat and stared directly at Boone. His blue eyes took on the phosphorescent glow of the real being beneath the illusion. "You may relax. I have already spoken with the Synod. They agree that I may deny Ne'eg the opportunity if I so wish."
        "I thank you," was all the shook up human could manage.
        "I have also brought you a gift of sorts." Da'an indicated the packet he had been holding. "Please, add this to your tea and drink of it," he continued as he passed the packet over to Boone.         
        Boone accepted the packet as alarm bells went off in his head. Would Da'an poison him? Get rid of him rather than have the Synod find out that his implant might be a spy?
        Noting Boone's expression, Da'an spoke. "Do you now doubt me Boone?"
        "No." he answered quickly. "No, I trust you, Da'an."
        "It is good that you do so, for we are both about to venture where none of our brethren have before." He indicated the tea. "Please, drink."
        Boone opened the packet and mixed it into his tea. "Bottoms up," he mumbled as he up-ended the cup and drained it in a few gulps.
        "You shall recover quickly now Boone," Da'an gave him a rare smile. "The packet contained an agent which will completely incapacitate the influenza virus while leaving your implant untouched. We cannot have Ne'eg finding out about your illness."
        "Thank-you." Boone stared at his pale visitor in a daze as his words registered the truth behind the visit. "Da'an...did you talk to the Synod after you learned of my illness?"
        "I did."
        "That means..."
        Da'an rose from his seat. "I can see that you have grasped a part of the truth." He moved toward the doorway and paused to speak once more, but in the Taelon language.
        "I strive to become..." Boone translated the phrase but did not recognize the final word.
        " your own hand," Da'an finished for him. "You have said that I am the bridge between our people, but you were mistaken Boone." He blinked sincerely. "Together WE are the bridge."
        Before Boone could respond, his exotic visitor had gone, leaving his thoughts a jumble of confusion.
        The Taelon had answered his question about the Synod - he had kept Boone's illness from them, which implied that information was not necessarily always shared. He had then taken steps to ensure that Boone would recover before anyone else became aware of the illness. And incredibly, Da'an had to know that Boone had free will - that his implant had been tampered with. He had chosen to keep that to himself as well.
        "...As your own hand," Boone repeated. Without further ado, he left his bed and made his way to the monitor he kept in the room he used as a study. He was already steadier on his feet.         
        Switching on the Taelon - developed computer, he called up the Taelon - English dictionary which Da'an had given him when he had asked him to teach him the Taelon language. He typed in the unrecognized Taelon word Da'an had used.
        The translation was: "Your own hand, Friend."
        "I am striving to become your friend," he breathed.
        Making his way to the window, he caught a glimpse of the shuttle just before it disappeared. He smiled. "I trust you, Da'an," he murmured. "...but I still must know why your people are here."         
        Returning to the monitor, he called his office and got up with his secretary. "Please send a message to Da'an for me."
        "Yes sir?"
        "Tell him that I am in good health and looking forward to seeing him at the ceremony on Monday."
        "Will do."
        Boone cut the transmission and headed for the pantry. His appetite was suddenly back.         
        "Sometimes you win," he laughed.