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Heart Of Madness
Part Three

Hand Over Fist

Hand over fist
Paper around the stone
Scissors cut the paper
Cut the paper to the bone
Hand over fist
paper around the stone
Scissors cut the paper
And the rock must stand alone

For some reason Saber Rider had always found Ramrod's medical center depressing.  Perhaps it was the colour scheme that caused it.  The walls, floor, and ceiling were a dull greyish beige designed to reflect light.  Perhaps it was the 'squidginess' of the room, crowded with medical computers and devices to the point of near claustrophobia. It was a cramped, boring room and it was wonder that it didn't contribute to a lack of recovery in its patients.   Jesse had so far been the ideal patient; he let the medicomp scan his injuries, even let it inject him with the nanocytes to mend them.  Saber shuddered at the though of this; he loathed the idea of letting microscopic machines go to work in his body, even if they were designed to shut down once they completed their task and get flushed out of the body's system.  Saber's eyes slid over to the man reclining on a med-bench.  A man in pain, evidently exhausted beyond endurance, but refusing to give even an inch.  Saber's thoughts drifted back to two hours previous...

*  *  *  *
I could disappear into the crowd
But not if I keep my head in the clouds
I could walk away so proud
It's easy enough if you don't laugh too loud

"I surrender," with those words the armored figure began to remove his helmet using his left hand.  He held his right arm close to his body.  Saber saw that the armor on that side of his body was cracked and smashed in places.

'That blow the Badlander took must have been more severe than we thought'  Saber thought as he watched Jesse Blue carefully.   He was mildly surprised when he saw the long tattered braid fall from the helmet as it finally came off.  He was even more surprised when Jesse swayed slightly, as he dropped his helmet.  The turncoat looked as if he were going throw up, or perhaps pass out.  But with barely visible effort Jesse kept himself up-right, and began to cross the hangar towards the silent Star Sheriffs.  He was limping, and it was clear from his perfectly blank expression he was suppressing pain.

Saber glanced at April and Colt, and a knot settled in his stomach.  Their eyes were icy with hatred and he could almost believe they were enjoying this.  Which was why he walked out to Jesse and offered his assistance.

Jesse stared at the out stretched hand, then looked up at Saber's eyes.

Saber saw pride and fear warring with need in Jesse's eyes.  He schooled his own face to show nothing of the disgust and anger he felt for this man.  Instead he let only concern come through, and silently celebrated his small victory when Jesse took his hand.  Jesse's skin seemed unnaturally cool.

"My leg is broken."

"Then lean on me."

There was another moment that went on forever as Jesse appeared to be waging an internal struggle.  He gave a deep sigh, and very slightly let Saber take some of his weight.  As they crossed the bay Saber noticed that Colt and April were frozen in place in front of the door, their eyes conveying disapproval that he was helping Jesse.

'Well, I can't very well let someone needing help go unaided, can I?' he raged silently, 'what sort of commander am I if I did that?'

Saber glanced over at Jesse's face to see his reactions.  Jesse's eyes just slid over Colt, dismissing the cowboy completely.  His aqua eyes widened slightly as he looked at April.

'Probably didn't expect her hair to be so short,' Saber thought wryly.

Colt and April parted to let them through.

*  *  *  *

"TinStar?" a harshly familiar voice cut through his haze of memory, "Hello, TinStar?  You're being paged."

Saber started when he realized he had fogged out.  Sure enough April's voice was becoming slightly impatient and panicked over Ramrod's internal comm-system.

"Saber here, April," He answered as he tapped the respond button.

"I was getting worried," April replied, relief evident in her voice, "We're about to enter Yuma's system.  Cavalry Command is requesting your report of the battle."

"Very well, April, I'll be there in just a moment," Saber answered.  He turned to Jesse.

"I know, I know, you're going to secure me," Jesse muttered, long fingers twitching, playing with his waist length braid.

"Given your history, Jesse," Saber Rider said as he brought the cage like restraints down over Jesse, "I would have to far, far gone to leave you alone and loose.  That's no too tight?" he asked, before locking it down.

"It's fine," Jesse's brow furrowed, "and it isn't necessary.  I'll stay put right here...this isn't a standard lock-down?"

"Critical care cage.  It was designed to keep someone on life-support from disconnecting himself, if he thrashed about in his sleep," Saber answered, then turned away, "Three of your ribs were broken, I can't imagine you'd want to risk puncturing your lung, even with the nanocytes working."  And he left Jesse behind.

Jesse blinked after him, then let out a gusty sigh.  He relaxed back, closed his eyes, and reluctantly let sleep take him.

As Saber walked through Ramrod's corridors, he composed himself.  This was not going to be an easy report; it would be filled with unanswered questions.  He had his own questions, and he wasn't certain he would ever know the answers to them.  Still he was confident that between what the survivors of Mihara saw and what Ramrod's sensors had recorded they would have a better insight into the Outriders' new technology.

"So how is our 'guest'?" April asked when he entered the command center.

"A bit bashed up," Saber responded, "and very tired.  I locked him down in the medical center."

April suppressed her reaction, "Shouldn't he be in the brig?"

"I don't think he's planning on going anywhere, April," Saber said tiredly, realizing for the first time how exhausted he was himself.  He saw that same exhaustion etched on his to friends' faces as well, "Open the channel to Cavalry Command, please."

After a tense twenty-three minutes of relating his report, Saber was finally able to ask, "The survivors of Mihara, how are they doing?"

The Cavalry Commander was silent for a moment, distress causing creases in her face, "We've only been able to clear a small fraction of them for landing.  We're still scanning the remaining ships, but a substantial portion of them are so contaminated with radiation, we're not sure if we can even can grant them near-atmosphere orbit.  The moon bases are converting what isolated facilities they have, doctors and specialists are mobilizing, but...We're expecting a seventy-eight percent fatality rate."

"I see," Saber swallowed back his sudden sense of grief and inadequacy, "What are our orders regarding Jesse Blue?"

The Commander's face went blank, and Saber remembered that one of her sons had died in an attack lead by Jesse.  The woman suddenly looked very old, then she recovered, "Cavalry Command has requested that a councilor from each of the settlements be sent to Yuma, there will be a meeting to discuss what information he may be able to give us.  You are to keep guard over Blue and see that he does not escape."

Almost on cue an alarm went off in the Command Center.  Saber barely glanced away from the Comm-Screen, "Colt, would you?"

Colt nodded as he rose from his saddle unit, "On my way, Top Sword."

*  *  *  *
I thought I was okay alone
Wait for the postman and the telephone
Lost in a world of my own
I thought I could run alone
Thought I could run through the night alone

the darkness hurt, the light burned.  everywhere was pain.  from the inside, from the outside.  being ripped apart, being pieced together.  I am become Death...  there was nothing to feel the pain, but there was pain nonetheless. pain. threads of agony cutting through the mind, probing answers, ripping questions, a insatiable demand for knowledge.  love masked in soft trapping of hatred.  I am become Death...  long sharp fingers...bones?  no, metal, bladed fingered caresses along the throat. sweet razor kisses.  soft sound of needles clicking. a long scarf of grey wool, softer than a kitten's fur.  sweet warm soft laughter.  mother?   I am become Death...  smoke. sorry, so sorry.  scarlet sun bleeding on a snow field.  running. running to.  running from. hitting a wall, no wall. only emptiness.  fire forming the ground, melting the ground. sharp fingers.  machines, i am.   give me your first kiss.  give me your broken soul.  give me that kitten from when you were eight.  give me your excitement.  give me making love.  on a mushroom cloud.  I am become Death....  phantom cybercore.  blue eyes.  laughing, laughing, laughing.  love me. hate me.   i own you.  green eyes, no pupil, no white.  an arm here, an arm there. open up. let's see what happens when i do this.  poke.  it went blorp.  your liver went blorp.  did you know your heart had gone moldy?   its grey and fuzzy now.  here's a new one.  bright and shiny, made of titanium alloy and silicon.  oh reno... want to play now?  oh reno...all gone...ha...ha...ha...ha...a real ball of fire...

 I am become Death, Shatterer of Worlds

*  *  *  *
Hand over hand
Doesn't seem so much
Hand over hand
Is the strength of the common touch

Jesse tried to surge up as he regained consciousness, his throat already raw from screaming, but he met resistance.  In his panic he ignored the nagging voice in his head telling him he was safe, and violently pushed the cage off him.  Near sobs threatened to choke him, as his eyes stung from unshed tears.  He stumbled off the medical bench, and crashed into a cabinet of supplies.  Attempting to get his bearings he tripped over the smashed critical care cage.  Jesse let out a near comical squeak as he found himself face flat on the floor.

'Okay not my smoothest reaction to awaking up from a nightmare,' Jesse jibed himself as he fully woke up.  He carefully took stock of the situation.  He had surrendered to the Star Sheriffs, and was on board Ramrod.  Hopefully as far away from Nemesis as was possible now.  Jesse groaned and pushed himself up onto his knees, 'Oh gods...well at least I don't feel like I'm breathing fire now, leg's feeling pretty good too.  Blasted nanocytes.  Now, to get up.'  Jesse heft himself back upright, 'that was a mistake...' he thought dizzily, clutching heavily the edge of the medi-comp to keep from returning to the floor

Hearing the commotion as he approached the medical center, Colt had drawn his gun.  Now he let the door slide open, before he cautiously poked his head around the door frame.  All he saw was Jesse Blue standing by the medi-comp, looking all the world like he was about to faint.  Then he saw the remains of the critical care cage and the crumpled edge of the medi-comp.

Jesse turned and looked Colt.  His eyes focused first on the gun, then up on Colt's steel blue eyes.  With a decided lack of concern, he ignored them both and sat back down in the medical bench, "Sorry," he said lightly, insincerely, and sarcastically, as he looked at the damage he had done to the medical center, "I had a bad dream."

"Bad dream?" Colt snorted disbelievingly, "Right, pardner, you just up and destroy the place 'cause poor little Jesse had a nightmare?  Bull balls!"

Jesse just glared back at him tiredly.

"Saber may think you're no threat, but I know better," Colt stated decisively, re-aiming the Colt at Jesse's head.

"I'm injured, exhausted and half-starved.  Oh! What a tremendous threat I am, you stupid cowpoke!" Jesse sneered,  "Tell me, Colt, did that schoolmarm marry you so she could have a ready example of the dangers of  being a deliberately and blindly ignorant dolt?"

Colt tensed, his finger was aching to squeeze the trigger.  He snorted in disgust, and lowered his revolver, "You know, turncoat, you haven't changed," Colt turned away, "that's sorta sad."

Jesse bit his lip as he watched Colt radio the command center that everything was A-Okay in the medical center.

"So, you going to chain me down? Or take me to the brig?" Jesse asked casually, swinging his legs up to the bench and laying back.

"Top Sword seems to think you'll stay put if we just leave you here," Colt answered unhappily.

"You don't think that," Jesse shot back as he thought, 'and that wasn't what Saber Rider said to me, but I'll be damned before I tell you that.'

"I think this is all some of sorta trap."

"Maybe," Jesse sighed, his voice fading to a sleepy murmur, "but I have changed, Colt.  More then you know."

Colt spun to face Jesse, but the teal haired man was apparently asleep.  Colt stalked over to stand over the turncoat.  It would be so easy to give Jesse a good smacking about, after all who was more likely to be believed?  A traitor claiming an unprovoked attack?  Or a hero claiming self-defense when confronted with an escaping prisoner?  A vision rose before his eyes of his three little girls.  He closed his eyes, and nodded.  'They deserve better Daddy than that,' he thought, 'and he's not worth it.'

There was a bit of noise, barely a whimper.  It caught Colt by surprise, and his eyes popped open.  Jesse's face was tensed and unhappy, his mouth set in grim line.

'Sonovagun, he is having nightmares.'  But Colt caught himself before his paternal instinct manifested itself, and he reached out to soothe the nightmare away.  He turned on his heels and left the medical center, leaving Jesse to begin screaming himself hoarse again.

*  *  *  *
You talk as we walk along
You never imagined I could be so wrong
Humming your favorite song
You know I've hated that song for so long

April sat hunched over the consoles of her saddle unit.  She was shaking, and she couldn't pinpoint why.  Well, she could make a well educated guess, but if she did that she wasn't sure if she could control herself.

"April?" Saber's gentle voice cut through her turmoil, "Are you going to be all right?"

April turned to look up at her friend and commander.

"I hope so, Saber," she said, "I just never...I don't know why...why did he have to play hero now?" she half growled, half wailed.

Saber remained silent, but he crouched down so he was eye level to her and held out his arms.

April leaned forward and rested her head on his shoulder, wrapping her arms around him; their respective armors making a terrible clanging noise as he closed his arms around her.

"Why?  Why wasn't he there when New Reno was attacked?  Why couldn't he have saved them?  Why is he here now?  Why isn't he dead?!??" April rasped, tears falling, feeling so hot that she absently wondered if they were burning her face.

Saber simply let his own tears start to fall.  He knew who she was talking about, and lacked any answers to give her.  He knew also that she what hadn't asked was just as important: why was Jesse alive when Fireball was dead?  It was concept, Saber knew, too painful for her to verbalize.

April withdrew from Saber's arms, wiping her eyes with her fingers.

"Thanks," she gave him a shaky grin,  "I needed that."

"Any time, April," Saber returned with his own sad smile, "I needed it too."

"Saber...?" April had returned her attention to her readouts.

"Yes, April?"

"Jesse should be in the brig," she refused to meet his eyes.

Saber nodded, standing, "I understand."

"You're not going to put him there, are you?"



Now it was his turn not to meet her eyes, "April, he was badly injured."

"And you took care of him, now he should be in the brig," April stubbornly insisted again.

Saber sighed, exhaustion and grief making his voice slightly sharp, "April, I can't put him the brig.  I don't think he would stay there if I did.  Jesse seems content to stay voluntarily in the medical center.  If I try and put him in the brig, he'd just get out.  He'd look at it as challenge.  Do you want him wandering around Ramrod?"

April frowned, but ended up sighing herself, "Do you think I would design a brig he could get out of, Saber?"

"April," Saber began, then stopped, "April, I have every confidence in your abilities.  But Jesse Blue is capable of anything..."

"Which is why he should be..." April cut him off only to be cut off herself.

"...Should be in the brig," Saber snapped, "April, I'm beginning to think you don't trust my judgment, or my abilities as a commander," his voice took on a dangerous edge, "Is that the case, April?"

"No sir," April responded coldly.

Saber cursed himself for being so harsh, "April, I think you should return to your quarters and rest, this has been a long a difficult day."

"Is that an order, sir?"

"Do I have to make it one, April?" Saber sounded genuinely regretful.

April glanced back up at him, and her eyes softened a bit, "No."

She rose from her saddle unit and yawned stretching.  She smiled sadly at Saber again as she passed him to leave, "just remember you have to get some rest too, Top Sword."

"Will do, April, will do."

Saber had a few minutes of blessed silence before the comm-unit beeped at him.  He tapped at the blinking light, and got it on the second try.

"Saber Rider here."

"Commander Rider, this is Daniel Jensen of Yuma Associate Media.  We've heard rumors that..."

Saber sat bolt upright, "This a classified frequency!  I suggest you get off it, before you're charged with a violation of New Frontier safety."

"Is it true that you've capture Jesse..." the newshound's question was abruptly cut off as Saber canceled the transmission, then sent one of his own to Cavalry Command; someone's head was going to roll for this screw-up.

*  *  *  *

As the new of rising death toll from Mihara spread, a second wave of fear and paranoia swept over the New Frontier.  The councilor departing for Yuma were barraged with questions and requests.  Most of the requests were demands that that particular settlement get the most protection because it supplied this or that absolutely vital to the survival of the new frontier material.  Most of the questions could never be answered.

When the day came that all the representatives were gathered on Yuma, Ramrod descended from its orbit to land in the central compound of Cavalry Command's headquarters.  The Cavalry Command Press Corps all pressed against the clear barrier separating them from the actually landing site.

The boarding ramp folded down, and there was sudden rush of the silence.  The tapping of the metal boots was deafening even in the open air.  April was the first to emerge.  She ignored the rippling hubbub, instead looking up to the main building's observation lounge windows.  She paused and smiled when she saw a tiny face pressed against the glass and a tiny hand waving frantically.

After April came the confirmation of the rumors the press corps had been hearing.  With Saber on one side and Colt the other, Jesse Blue came marching down the ramp.  Later, as many of the reporters compared notes, they agreed the most frightening quality of the former Outrider Commander was how normal he seemed and how in control.  Jesse wore worn brown cowboy boots, blue jeans, a brown leather belt, a dark grey shirt, and a brown cowboy hat.  He looked like an ordinary man.  The only notable features were the braid draped over his shoulder and the manacles that bound his wrists together behind his back. ordinary man.  Except when the one time he turned to look at them.

No one's eyes should ever be that hard, or hold that much hatred, that much pity, that much sorrow.

*  *  *  *
How can we ever agree?
Like the rest of the world
We grow farther apart

The room was spacious.  Its ceiling a series of cream coloured arches.  Even with the security barriers locked down just the suggestion of the floor to ceiling windows conveyed an illusion of openness.   Unfortunately it was all lost to an irrational sense of claustrophobia settling over its occupants.  They seemed incapable of doing anything other than huddle together in the center the room, and fill the room with a dull hum of unnaturally hushed whispers.  Even the bright clear light shining down from above developed a murky imaginary haze in their minds.

The Cavalry Commanders separated themselves from the crowd and settled themselves in the front of the display screen at the far end of the room.  Most stood tall at attention, hands behind their backs, they looked more sure of themselves than they were.   General Whitehawk, the senior Commanders and the special representative from Jarr took their places at the long table in front of the screen.

The representatives of the Settlements took their places at the tables set up in a "U" shape, facing the view screen.  They were all too aware of the absence their colleague from New Reno, and of the frail, shell-shocked appearance of Mihara's representative.

There was a collective, condemning frown as the Star Sheriffs entered the room, or rather a collective, condemning frown directed at their captive, who just rolled his eyes.  They came to stand midway between the Commander and the representatives.

Saber caught General Whitehawk's eye, and then glanced at Jesse.  General Whitehawk nodded.  Saber moved to remove the manacles from Jesse.

But a thunk was heard as they dropped almost to the floor, only caught by the heel of Jesse's boot.  Jesse back-kicked them up into his hands.  And with just the barest trace of smile presented them to Saber.

Saber bit his lip, and took them, "I suppose I should be thankful you didn't do that outside," he breathed in the low voice.

"Nah, I wouldn't have done that to you," Jesse responded, ignoring the stir his antic had created.

General Whitehawk loudly cleared his throat, catching the room's attention.  He launched in a preamble recap of their current situation.  Several representative noticeably turned green from his clipped description of the attack on Mihara and the on-going aftermath.  Then the General turned his attention to the traitor standing before them all.

What he said came as no surprise to Jesse.  Most it was so old to him that it seemed pathetic to know that the New Frontier hadn't been able to get over it yet.   The floor was opened up to queries from the representatives. They were all unimportant questions that received one word answers from him, and one that only earned Commander Eagle a raised eyebrow and a dismissive shrug.  Jesse couldn't believe the petty interests that were being aired.  Some questions/comments were downright offensive.  The representative from New Wichita never realized how close to having his spleen fed to him for a less than polite comment about Jesse's parentage; although Saber had seen Jesse's calloused hands flex and clench.

Finally Commander Eagle asked, "How far along are the Outriders plans?"

"You are already dead," Jesse's calm voice froze the blood in everyone's veins.  In his sad eyes were the reflections of a charnel house's inhabitants, reflections of their own faces, "And it's only a short matter of time before he corrects the little technicality that you're still breathing."

I swear you don't listen to me
Holding my hand to my heart
Holding my fist to my racing heart

From there the room rapidly descended in a melting pot of chaotic noise.  Questions.  Accusations.  Grandstanding Statements.  Paranoid Fears.  Delusion Of Importance.  Demands That Jesse Be Locked Away At Once.  All bounced through the hall, as each representative tried to make him or herself heard.  Half Cavalry Command tried to restore order order, while the other half bombarded Jesse with questions about the size of the Outrider forces.

"May I speak!" Jesse shouted over the din, "Listen to me!"

The room went deadly silent as hostile eyes came to rest on one of the bones of contention.

"You are arguing about something that should be the farthest from your mind right now.  You all are facing something that you have never faced before.  This not just a resurgence of the Outriders.  They are dead.  This is a single insane Outrider, Nemesis, who no longer cares about anything but revenge.  He doesn't want your settlements, he doesn't want your resources, he doesn't want anything you think he wants.  He want the total annihilation of the New Frontier, of your home planets.  I would have thought  Mihara and New Reno would have shown you that.  He will hunt down every single human in the universe if he has to.  He has created the single most destructive automated armed force ever seen in this galactic cluster.  You will not, as you are no doubt thinking, be able to confuse the AIs.  They have one purpose: attack until their target is destroyed, or they are destroyed.  And they are tougher than you think, because you've only seen a fraction of them," Jesse took a breathe, "Yes, I did what I did.  And you want to know something, I don't regret it, I feel no remorse.  Because I can't change what happened by doing that, and I wouldn't anyway.  I can change the future.  The way you are heading now, the way you're behaving now, you will doom the human race.  I can stop that.  And that is the choice before you now.   Condemn me now, and you condemn yourselves.  Or let me fight in this war, then after Nemesis is defeated, you can try me, and mete whatever perverse notion of justice you currently believe in.  I won't stop you."

"You're very sure of yourself," one of the nameless councilors called out, "What makes you think you'll make a difference in this war."

Jesse straightened up, and fixed the man with a cold deadly glare, "Because I am the best."

The room fell silent once again.

Saber Rider looked to General Whitehawk, who nodded, "We will consider this, Blue.  Now if you let Saber Rider escort you to..."

"My cell?" Jesse finished.

"To secure quarters," Whitehawk glared back at Jesse.

Jesse turned to Saber, "Lead on, TinStar."

Saber re-secured Jesse's wrists with the cuffs, only half-heartedly believing Jesse would keep them on any longer then he had before.  He took hold of Jesse's elbow and lead him from the council chamber.

Jesse behaved docilely enough.  The only time he showed any indication of noncompliance was when a guard made a loud sneering comment about him. He surged slightly towards the man.  But then Jesse looked over at Saber and reigned in his temper.  Much to Saber Rider's surprise, Jesse seemed almost to be seeking his approval.

They twisted through the labyrinthine corridors of Cavalry Command Central.  The pair finally stopped in front of gun-metal grey door.

"Hmm, very welcoming," Jesse smiled slyly.

"It's better than most places the council wanted to place you, I'm sure," Saber tapped in a code on the blank keypad.

"Hmm, I bet," Jesse responded, his icy eyes expressing his distaste when he saw the sterile decor of his "secure" quarters, "A bit spartan don't you think?"

Saber shrugged, and gestured for him to go through the door..

Jesse just stood in the doorway, "Not even institutional green, just flat grey metal."

Looking at Jesse carefully, Saber saw there was a fine tremble running through Jesse's frame.

I command

He took Jesse's elbow again and half-pulled, half-pushed him through the doorway.

Jesse shot Saber a dull glare as he staggered a bit, "Forget your manners, TinStar?"

"No, I simply don't have the time to be polite, you don't have the time," Saber answered, his voice weary.  He removed the manacles, and watched Jesse rub his wrists, "I have no doubt I'll be sent to retrieve you when they've come to their decision."

With that Saber Rider turned and left, the metal door sliding soundlessly into place.

Jesse looked around the room.  All around him was nothing but dull metal, the only breaks being the grey seemingly colourless bedclothes.  Not a window, nor a vid-screen to be seen.  Not even a tacky holo of a flowers decorated the walls.  Just a dull metal.  It was like being inside a machine.  Panicked nausea rose through him.  He turned back to the sealed door.

'I have to get out of here.'

*  *  *  *

Take a walk outside myself
In some exotic land

He had found a sheltered, well shadowed alcove off the corridor.  He could still hear the bustle of the people all around, even see peeks of people as they tripped over themselves to complete the tasks they found oh so important, but wouldn't make a damn bit of difference to the rest of the New Frontier if the counsel was stubborn.  Jesse leaned back against the wall, his eyes half-closed.  This was ridiculous. They were arguing over their own survival.  Jesse yawned.

'They could be facing another Mihara at any moment and they were huddled in a room discussing a dead past,' he thought,  'Or worse New Reno.  New Reno...' he shook his head, 'something wrong with the vents?' he wondered.  The air felt like soggy cotton.

He caught a flash of light out of the corner of his eye.

'What was that?'

Jesse tried to turn to look, but everything felt like it was moving in slow motion.  His body felt as if  it were made of lead.  A dulled wall of screams slowly worked its way towards him.  The people walking down the hall didn't seem to hear them coming.  The corridor become orange-black as waves of heat crashed through it.  A passing technician didn't seem to notice her skin charring and melting as she haggled over some minor detail in a report with a scorched skeleton.

Jesse had to force his hand up to rub his eyes, but it was incredibly draining.  The corridor's inhabitants were still acting like everything was normal, despite the inferno.  But he could see a figure walking toward him, bursts of lasers dancing about it.  Jesse could not make out who it was, didn't want to, but the floor beneath the figure's feet transformed into molten rock.  A whispering, mocking laughter swirled in the ash-filled air cutting through the screams like a razor.

'This is New Reno.  I'm back on New Reno.  How did I get back here?  No, this is Yuma.  I'm on Yuma.  This isn't happening again.  Help me.  It can't happen again.  Please help me.'

The lightning's hand.

He was jarred as something bumped into him, knocking him free of his waking nightmare.

Greet a passing stranger
Feel the strength in her hand
Feel my world expand

Jesse looked down and saw a pretty, little girl with mischievous, smiling aqua eyes staring back up at him.

"Excuse me, mister!" she sung, "I'm sorry, mister!"

"It''s all right," He managed.  The little girl had long dark brown hair in pigtails, and only came up to his hip in height.  She was only a child, but it was nice to have one person approach him without either fear or loathing in their eyes, 'Still, something...something about her...oh gods...'

"Are you okay, mister?" the little girl asked, as she took his hand, "you look awful!"

"I was nearly asleep on my feet," Jesse replied, relaxing, grinning slightly at the childish lack of tact.

"You were sleep walking?  I sleepwalk sometimes," again the girl's eyes glittered with mischief, "I sleepwalked right to the cookie jar," and she giggled.

Jesse found his hand wrapping around her little one, "well, did it work?"

"Huhuh, Daddy was raiding the fridge.  He sent me back to bed," she shrugged. She squeezed his hand, and tugged him to come down to hear a secret, "he gave me a cookie anyway," she whispered gleefully.

Jesse chuckled, "your daddy must be a big softie," he replied, just slightly wistful.

She nodded, "but don't let anyone know."

"'fraid, I don't know who he is," Jesse let go of her hand, but stayed crouched down to talk to her, "so the secret's safe with me."

"He's the head of Cavalry Command," the girl said matter of factly, nothing but innocence in her eyes now.

"Your daddy's General Whitehawk?!?" Jesse stood up in shock.

"Yep!" The little girl tilted her head up to look him in the eye, and solemnly said, "And I'm gonna be the head of Cavalry Command too someday.  I'm gonna fill Daddy's shoes."

There was a scuffle of hurried footsteps, and a achingly familiar voice calling, "Esperanza!  Esperanza!?!  Where have you gotten to?  Esperanza!"

"Mom!" the little girl, Esperanza, called back, "Over here, Mom!"

Jesse felt like sinking into the floor, even if his face didn't show it.  Instead he leaned back, smirked insouciantly, and waited.

"Esperanza, how often have I told you..." Trista trailed off when she saw Jesse, "Esperanza, I want you go back to our quarters, right now."

"But Momma, we were talking!" Esperanza insisted.

"Go right now, Esperanza.  Mommy is not in the mood to discuss this right now," Trista ordered firmly, gently pushing her daughter behind and away from her, "Why don't you draw a pretty picture for Daddy?  I'm sure that will brighten his day."

Esperanza hesitated, but after seeing the tense look on her mother's face, she ran off half skipping.  She turned back once to wave good-bye to Jesse.

I feel my spirit resist
But I open up my fist

Unbidden Jesse's eyes followed Esperanza until she turned the corner.  He wanted to call her back.

Trista swallowed fearfully as she saw the strange hunger enter Jesse's eyes.  She glanced over her shoulder to make her daughter was gone.

"Stay away from her."

Jesse looked back at Trista.  He looked her over.  She had changed very little.  She looked older, yes.  And her hair was longer and pinned up, but otherwise she was looked very much like the pretty, young woman he had seduced nearly eight years before.

"Why would I want to have anything to do with some bastard you whelped?"

For a moment Trista thought she was going to scream, then she saw Jesse's eyes pulled back to the last spot Esperanza had been before she disappeared around the corner, "Just stay away from her. She's a happy little girl.  She doesn't need you screwing up her life."

Jesse glared at Trista, but his voice was softer than anyone would have expected, "Why would I want to screw up her life?"

"Just don't," Trista said sadly, "Now, I have to get back," and she turned away.

Jesse caught her arm, "you can swear to me that she's happy?" he asked in a low voice.

Trista didn't look him, "she has a mother who adores her, a stepfather who loves her nearly beyond reason, and lots of friends to play with.  Why wouldn't she be happy?  I can think of only one thing that could change that."

Jesse let go of Trista's arm, and she began to walk away.  He called after her with one last question.

"Trista, why Whitehawk?"

Trista stood very still for a moment, then left Jesse alone in the corridor, his question unanswered.

Jesse felt a wave of loneliness sweep over him.  Maybe wandering the halls of Cavalry Command wasn't as entertaining as he thought they would be.  He turned back to the now empty corridor and wended his way back to his "secure" quarters.

'Damned fools.  Do they really think they can mask a cell with just words?' he wondered as he turned the final corner, "oops," he smirked to himself.

The four Star Sheriffs, and one other, a tall, curvy red-head, were gathered around the door to his quarters looking deeply puzzled as Saber Rider tapped in the lock's combination yet again.

"Try tapping the blue light four time and green twice," he said as he came up behind them causing them to jump.

"What the heck?!?" Colt yelped as he tossed a punch towards Jesse.

"How?" was what Saber wanted to know.

April looked as if she had just swallow poison, but said nothing.  The shoulder of her shirt rumpled slightly.

The red-head just shrugged condescendingly.

Jesse leaned  against the wall, "Well?  What is my fate?  Four centuries of solitary confinement, hard labor, and bread and water?  Or has the council decided to reinstate the death penalty for my case?"

"The council has considered what you said," Saber announced, "They will allow you limited freedom for the duration of the conflict.  You will be confined on board Ramrod acting as an advisor, unless you are accompanied by one of us.  After the conflict ceases, you will be put on trial for your crimes.  However, General Whitehawk and I persuaded them that your cooperation now be kept in consideration when that time comes," Saber looked at the closed and locked door of Jesse's quarters and frowned, "this little escapade however..."

The public address system blared to life drowning out whatever else Saber Rider had to say.

"The settlement of NeoKansas has reported a sighting of a fleet of Outrider Ghidoraus entering their system.  Repeat, NeoKansas has reported sighting Ghidoraus entering their system.  Ramrod Team to the launch pad immediately," and variations of the message began to repeat.  The five gathered there looked slightly stunned.

"Nemesis must be accelerating  his schedule for armageddon even more," Jesse muttered fretfully.

Saber shouted over the sudden noise erupting through the building, "this can wait."

The team turned as one, and rushed to the equalizer unit.

Lay hand over hand over
Hand over fist

*  *  *  *

End Part Three

OY! Can you say this part ended rather abruptly?  I knew you could ^_^
The song, if you haven't guessed, is Hand Over Fist by Rush (and for anyone who's heard the song...yes, I did change one word).  And, nope, don't have any rights to it...nor to the characters, except maybe Esperanza and the tall, curvy red head.
Jesse's clothing: In case anyone's wondering, he had them in the Badlander.
And just how did he get out of those "secure" quarters? ^_^  (Star Sheriffs, and the rest of Cavalry Command, repeat after me: Just because nothing turned up on the scanners does not mean you can forego doing a through search of your prisoner.  And Saber Rider you really should have known better!)
And how did Jesse know that Colt and Robin were married?
I'll get to who the tall red-head is in part four...but her name is Debbie Mason and some of already know who she is and why she's there! ^_~
Oh, heh, no, the "four" is not a typo, or carelessness on my part...^_^