The Shifter Child

New England, USA

The near future

It had been 5 years since Chris Lloyd, a young and attractive New York Assistant District Attorney, was raped by one of the last of the alien shapeshifters. No one in authority wanted to know about it.

A child was born out of the union, as an abortion would have proven fatal to the mother. Fortunately, so far, the human genes had been predominant and the child seemed normal human.

For a couple of years no one bothered mother and child. Then suddenly the FBI wanted to take the child into custody. Even worse one of the alien shape shifters had returned, probably for the child. With her friend Alex and her small child Gabriella, Chris Lloyd was on the run from both the FBI and the alien.

Somewhere in a remote area of New England, Chris's SUV had broken down. At least half an hours drive from a small cabin she had rented under an assumed name. Cold and hungry and in a cell phone black spot the two adults and child were considering their options. Chris was on the verge of tears despite her friends attempt to comfort her. She was a strong woman but everything had just been too much for her. Now there didn't seem to be anyone able to help them.

A few detective friends of Chris's from the NYPD had tried. One had been badly injured, another killed and two others disciplined for trumped up charges. Chris didn't want any more of this on her conscience and asked her NYPD friends to stop trying to help. In one last act, a particularly enterprising male friend had managed to get Chris, Alex and Gabriella out of New York and away from the immediate clutches of the FBI.

As the three of them looked about despondently, Chris was the first to notice a tall powerfully built man coming their way. He seemed to have come out of nowhere and was walking cross country on an angle towards them. The man's height and build reminded Chris of the comic strip character Garth that used to appear in one British newspaper. Chris and Alex's first thoughts were that he was a shape shifter (commonly just referred to as "shifters") in human form. It didn't seem likely though. A shifter would have been much more aggressive, coming straight at them. Out here the shifter probably wouldn't even worry about assuming human form.

The tall man was dressed in neutral grey with a backpack that seemed to be part of his grey jacket. As he came closer Christine thought him good looking but in a hard sort of way. She judged him at least 6' 5". His hair was as white as hair can be, though his face was unlined. It was impossible to judge his age.

Somehow neither of the women felt threatened by the stranger and they asked if he could help with the car. He introduced himself just as Earle, not offering a surname.

Just before starting work on the car Earle offered them a drink of "Caveene" pulling what looked like a small thin silver vacuum flask from his backpack. The flask didn't look as if it held more than 2 decent cupfuls. Christine took four silver cups each nestled inside the other. Strangely each cup seemed to be exactly the same size.

Alex poured and found there was easily enough for all four of them. She looked quizzically at Earle "7 x apparent - IDS" he said mildly. The puzzled look on Alex's and Chris's face told him he had already said too much. "Where am I?" he thought, "that they don't understand what I mean by IDS?"

Both women drank before the child and were more than pleasantly surprised by the taste of the "coffee" and even more surprised by the enormously invigorating feeling that it gave them. Gabriella a nervous and somewhat sickly child sampled the drink gingerly then, deciding she liked it, drank it down greedily and asked for more. It seemed to have an immediate highly beneficial affect on her.

Earle started work on the car, drawing a small multi-purpose tool from his backpack. It looked like an oversized Swiss army knife with extras thrown in.

He stifled a little chuckle at the internal combustion engine before him.

"What's in the coffee" asked Christine "it's very good."

"Caveene" corrected Earle. "It's a beverage containing caffeine but laced with vitamins and minerals, a variety of general medicinal elements, and the merest trace of alcohol." "Never heard of anything like that" volunteered Chris.

Earle pressed on with the car. "It's the starter motor" he said.

"So we'll have to get a new one?" enquired Alex.

"No, I can fix it" said Earle. He was tempted to add "at this level of technology" but didn't.

Neither of the women was mechanically minded and they chose not to look too closely at what Earle was doing. They were enjoying a second cup of the wonderful Caveene. Earle's repair was very quick and he then ran a quick diagnostic over the car. Alex couldn't help but notice a three-dimensional graphic emanating from Earle's multi-purpose tool. The graphic seemed to reveal the innermost parts of the car. Sort of a three dimensional x-ray of the cars engine. "Everything else looks okay" said Earle cheerfully.

"I guess you are not from around here?" said Chris – intending this more as a statement of fact than a question.

Earle nodded "I guess not." but he volunteered nothing else.

Almost against their better judgment the two women asked Earle if he would like to go to the rented cabin with them and Gabriella. There was nothing even remotely sexual about the invitation. Somehow they just felt kind of safe with him around. He exuded an air of quiet strength.

"Do you have any kind of computing facilities there?" enquired Earle "Just a laptop with us in the car" said Chris "and we have wireless broadband." "Okay then" said Earle taking an educated guess at what wireless broadband might be.

Just before they took off in the SUV Earle dropped a bit of a bombshell. "Just exactly where are we?" asked the big man catching the two woman by surprise

"New England" said Chris.

"That's in the United States" offered Alex, somehow knowing this extra information was pertinent.

"I've heard of THESEYOOKNIGHTEDSTATESSS" replied Earle. "Just exactly when are we?" he enquired.

The two women were not quite as taken back by the question as Earle might have expected. "It's July 12" recovered Chris. Earle looked at her expecting more.

"2010" added Alex helpfully "AD" she tapered off feeling foolish after Earle's eyes continued to search for further information.

"AD? That doesn't mean anything to me" responded Earle "can you reference it in terms of the first atomic attack on an Earth city?" The women thought for a moment.

That would be the attack on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in August 1945 – almost 65 years ago.

"A+65" thought Earle not entirely able to hide the brief look of surprise that crossed his face. "That far back" he thought to himself.

For the half hour trip back to the house everyone seemed happy to change the subject.

It was a cold day and when they got to the cabin, Earle quickly set about starting up the large wood combustion heater that doubled as a stove and making sure they had a plentiful supply of firewood. Chris and Alex busied themselves unpacking and then tidying up the kitchen and preparing a meal.

The cabin had an old electricity generator that no one had been able to fix. Not recently anyway. With the large wood fired combustion heater/stove and several oil lanterns Chris was sure they would be fine. Undaunted Earle decided to potter around with the generator as he saw there was a reasonable supply of fuel for it. As with the internal combustion engine he chuckled at its antiquity. Before long he got it going much to the delight of Chris and Alex and even little Gabriella.

The four settled down to enjoy a few relaxing and carefree days. There wasn't much food in the cabin and as Chris and Alex hadn't brought much with them, Earle started to produce stuff from his backpack.

Among the items were several small self heating/cooling receptacles containing deceptive volumes of dense and nutritious soups and stews. Also there was dried fruit that with water added blossomed to huge pieces of totally fresh fruit, high energy quasi-chocolate bars, ultra high protein slices of cheese and the freshest, purest tasting sparkling water in transparent receptacles. He also produced another of the small silver vacuum flasks containing more Caveene.

Neither of the woman enquired about the "x apparent capacity - IDS", whatever that meant, of the backpack. Like the silver flasks and the food receptacles it clearly contained a lot more than it's external dimensions would suggest. To add to their diet Earle caught fish by hand down at the nearby stream. This was the first time the two woman witnessed just how blinding fast he could be. His arm movements were almost a blur, too fast for the unfortunate fish. Gabriella didn't seem to notice. She was just happy playing and feeling safe for the first time in a quite a while.

In the evenings Earle fiddled on Chris's laptop and interfaced it with his ubiquitous multi-purpose tool. Quite a large variety of three dimensional graphics appeared. At first Chris and Alex didn't ask too much about them.

However they could see he was basically taking a crash course in current affairs and the general state of the world today.

On the second day at the cabin the woman, completely trusting, explained their situation. Chris's rape by the alien shape-shifter, Gabriella's birth and how both the FBI and another alien shapeshifter were after Gabriella. Earle just asked for a description of the several forms taken by the shapeshifter. He didn't say anything but he knew that shapeshifter rape of humans in his own time had produced offspring generally referred to as "shifter children." They were highly intelligent and tended to combine the best attributes of both races.

Later that evening Earle gave them a brief run down on his own situation. When he told them succinctly that he had been variously a starship trooper, soldier, policeman, mercenary for hire, and one time gladiator from 10,000 years in Earth's future, neither woman thought him mad. Somehow they knew that this man that didn't trouble to lie. He explained that he had been time displaced as he was hunting down a felon in this very area of the Earth. Although it was quite a different place 10,000 years in the future.

Earle didn't even seem that bothered by the time displacement. Apparently it was almost certainly temporary and not an unusual occurrence. He had been displaced inter-temporally once or twice before and even spent time in an alternate reality. He told them he thought the shapeshifters that had troubled Earth a while back were probably the victims of temporary time displacement.

Later that evening Earle went back on the lap top computer, effortlessly hacking in to FBI, CIA, NYPD and local law enforcement computers. He was trying to build up a picture of the FBI operation to catch up with Chris and Gabriella.

Earle hacked into one of the most highly protected of the FBI's computer files – operation Valkyrie. The Code name for the apprehension of the most potentially dangerous known shifter child: Gabriella. He could see the bureau was employing a helicopter search pattern from Gabriella's last known location that would eventually have them over flying the cabin.

With this knowledge the warm feelings of the group from their idyllic first few days in the cabin rapidly dispersed. Within a few hours Earle could "sense" the approach of their FBI pursuers. "They must want Gabriella pretty badly" he said gathering a small, rifle shaped artefact from his backpack and then climbing on the roof of the cabin.

"What's up" cried Chris nervously.

"Rotor-craft, sorry, helicopters still well below the horizon but now headed directly to this location" responded Earle.

"You know this how exactly" Alex's eyes seemed to say.

"I can sense danger well in advance" said Earle "but my instrumentation confirms it."

Atop the roof Earle took careful aim and fired three times. Quite some distance away and still far below the horizon all three of the incoming helos experienced unexplained engine malfunctions.

"What is that thing" asked Chris

"Don't tell us" added Alex, only half playfully, "it's some kind of ray gun."

Earle chuckled "if you must know it's an OTH disruptor – energy and/or projectile."

Neither Chris nor Alex asked what OTH meant.

"I think that's bought us a little time" said Earle "but I do suggest we get out of here pretty smartly, some time later this morning this cabin's going to have visitors.

The FBI agents finally arrived at the cabin about midday. Considering their quarry was a small sickly young girl and two adult females they were surprisingly heavily armed. Perhaps they were expecting an encounter with the shape shifter who was also believed to be after the girl or perhaps they knew something else.

Some of the FBI men had come in on two extra helos, others had come in by car after the first three helos had all unexplainably broken down. The two extra helos were up aloft scouring the area with several more on the way.

Earle, Chris, Alex and little Gabriella were long gone.

The cabin was empty and Earle had been careful to take with him any and all traces of the advanced technology he had been using. All safely away in his 200 x apparent – IDS – backpack.

"How did they find us?" asked Chris as they drove on the dirt road through the heavily forested area.

"We don't have any kind of electronic locators on us do we?" piped up Alex.

"No" said Earle "I would have detected that."

"Well then?" said Chris's eyes.

"I'm not sure said Earle" but when an involuntary time displacement takes place the subject has a brief energy signature that a higher technology can detect." "They might have some crude way of detecting that temporary signature but I wouldn't have thought so." he trailed off.

"So they might actually just be after you" enquired Chris.

"Possibly" said Earle somewhat doubtfully, "Sorry."

"Don't be" said Alex" they would have found us anyway and we are much safer with you."

"I've partially masked our presence from them" said Earle 'it's a crude relatively low tech technique but driving through this dense forest it should be more than enough."

After traveling for a good while, the four just barely noticed a small cabin well off the dirt road and in a particularly dense part of the forest. All three adults agreed to check it out. It was empty with no recent signs of occupation but quite comfortable in a rough sort of way. They agreed to stop over for a while. "I'm going to mask the cabin" said Earle "here in this dense forest it should suffice." "Also as a precaution I'll install a low powered, low level energy field around the cabin." "I'll show you how to negotiate it." he finished.

"What will it stop" enquired Chris. "It will completely stop a jumping wild animal, a running human, or a high velocity bullet" replied Earle "and it will take much of the kinetic energy out of a moving car or machine gun fire."

"That's way safer than anything we've known so far" responded Chris.

Little Gabriella was playing just outside the cabin but within the extended protection of the energy field. She hadn't been this well or this happy in a long time. Her ailment, whatever it was, and Earle suspected it was of a very alien nature, had been more than held at bay by the plentiful "Caveene" supply. Earle also had some other more specific medications in his backpack that he suspected would help but they didn't seem to be needed at present. Gabriella had decided she liked Earle and felt very safe while he was around.

"I sense something" said Earle quietly to the two women "quite close now" as he stepped towards Gabriella and gently ushered her into the cabin.

"It's a mountain lion" said Alex as the huge animal appeared less than 50 metres from the cabin "in these parts and so huge, I've never seen one that large before."

"It's not a mountain lion" said Earle ushering the woman inside and moving outside of the energy field towards the beast. Inside the women moved the low power energy field up to it's highest of only two settings.

The big cat sprang at Earle with amazing speed, faster really than a cat ought to be. No matter, Earle Gagne the fastest human of his or any other time was faster still. He grabbed its tail throwing it into the nearby tree with a force intended to kill. It did no such thing. The shape of the huge lion began to change, taller, larger still, raising itself up on two limbs. "My god a grizzly" whispered Chris looking out from within the cabin "largest I've ever seen."

Perhaps the shape shifter thought this even larger and more powerful form would be more suitable for dealing with the unexpected opposition to it's acquisition of the child. If so it was mistaken. Earle moved in fast, almost a blur, hitting the behemoth with an enormous two fisted blow in the lower back. The creature roared with pain and almost immediately changed shape again to what Earle knew to be its own natural shape shifter form. Chris and Alex gasped and turned away. Larger than a man and much faster, bipedal but a distasteful combination of human, insect, and reptile in approximately equal measure. It was fearsomely ugly beyond anything they had ever seen. This was surely not a creature for which the creator would take responsibility?

Almost a minute later they ventured to look out. It had taken that long for Earle to kill the creature which now lay inert before him oozing at least three quite different and distinctive types of fluids. The two women turned away again utterly revolted. Strangely Gabriella took a quick peek and wasn't troubled at all. "It's deader than Julius Caesar" yelled out Earle trying to make light of the matter. As Chris and Alex eventually came out of the cabin the creature had degenerated into a mass of tissues and fluids. First the smell of it departed and then the amorphous mass faded and disappeared.

"Returned to its own natural time" said Earle "it happens to any time displaced entity killed out of its own time, a natural mechanism."

Earle just wasn't ready to tell them all of it yet but in the future he had faced far worse than this shape shifter. He had told them he had been at one time or another, a starship trooper, elite policeman, a soldier, a mercenary and even a gladiator. This was all true and he had been other things as well. What he hadn't said was that when an elite police officer, one of his duties had been to track down extra-terrestrial illegal aliens on Earth.

Whether they were time displaced or had arrived by more conventional means. Also that he just happened to be the best there was at doing this job. The man they called in for situations that no one else could handle. They even had a name for him, 10,000 years in the future. The "Equalizer", a name dredged up from an ancient television show, knowledge of which had somehow survived the centuries, when so many other things hadn't.

Christine Lloyd looked at Earle with a smile, there was a lot she still didn't know about this man. However she sensed that if the FBI were coming for her daughter, with this man protecting her, they might not find their task easy. She was right. With his frightening speed, his strength, his technology advantage, his ability to sense danger the FBI and anyone else had best come in considerable force and very, very well armed. In fact they might be well advised to bring some elements of the military along with them if they were serious about taking Gabriella.

"Your FBI police people will eventually find us here" said Earle "I'm pretty sure they have some way of crudely tracking the shape shifters." Earle didn't enlighten them any further but both women were pretty sure that when his ubiquitous tool had interfaced with their laptop he had learned pretty much all he needed to know about the capabilities of contemporary law enforcers. As it turned out even the Pentagon had been on his list. The best Pentagon computer experts would not be proof against 121st century science.

The man, two women and the child enjoyed the luxury of a full day at the secluded cabin before taking off again. They had surely earned that.

During the day as they just lounged about Alex called out to Earle almost playfully "Hey Earle can you settle an argument between Chris and I?"

"Yes?" said Earle.

"What do IDS and OTH" stand for – you know you used one term for your "Caveene" flask and the other for that rifle thing of yours."

"Inter- Dimensional Storage and Over the Horizon" replied Earle.

"You win Chris" laughed Alex and everyone else joined in some well earned laughter.

The FBI tracked down the cabin where Earle's group had been, through residual energies left by the dead and departed shape-shifter. Earle and his charges had long since departed. Helicopter overflights had not located the foursome due to a combination of Earle's "masking" of the SUV and the densely forested area through which his group had travelled. Mostly it was the masking. Though the physical remains of the dead shapeshifter had long since departed there was enough energy residue to suggest this was the last place it had been.

The Bureau's suspicions that their quarry was travelling with someone very capable, possibly a time displacee were reinforced. They were pretty sure that someone had taken down a shapeshifter here – they knew the signs. It was at this stage that the Bureau decided to bring in extra resources. A short time afterwards the first of the military helos arrived, their cargo elite special forces. US Navy Seals – the best the American military had to offer.

Meanwhile Earle, Chris and Alex had found another location to "hole up" in for a while. A very old and long abandoned stone house in another forested area at the base of a mountain. It was probably too run down to live in. Earle had an answer for that. All four of them, even Gabriella helped to clear away the worst of the rubble inside the house.

Then Earle retrieved something from his seemingly bottomless backpack. It was the best thing he had pulled out yet. A small expanding "portahome" which they put amidst the roof and walls of the decaying stone house. It was comfortable for 2 or 3 but a bit tight for four. It offered basic facilities and protection against the elements including a modest force field. Although colorlessly transparent in its natural form the portahome had a semi-chameleon capability taking on the appearance of it's surroundings. From a short distance it looked just like a part of the stone house. With such a device it meant that covert operations in Earle's time could be carried out much more comfortably than in our time.

The four vowed not to stay long in this location. Earle was making the adjustments to his limited field equipment to fully mask all four of them and their SUV. Once this was done they would be completely invisible and undetectable to anything available to their pursuers. Even the SUV tyres would not show any measurable imprint.

The short on the ground briefing for the SEALS finished up. "So if we can get a clear shot on anyone except the girl, just take em out" said the Seal lieutenant. The FBI man just nodded.

Chris was still concerned about other shapeshifters showing up. Earle explained that the shifters could not voluntarily travel in time. It was only if one or more of them were randomly and involuntarily transported back. All the shifters would be telepathically briefed (and there were a lot of them) on what to do just in case that happened. However it was highly unlikely any more of them would end up exactly in this time. It was pure bad luck that even the one shifter had wound up back here. At least that was the theory.

It was well before daylight on their second day at the stone house ruins when Earle "sensed" something coming. Moving very cautiously through the heavily forested area the intruders were at least a mile away, probably more. Earle moved out to meet them "masking" himself from contemporary observation and popping, in his eyes, temporary lensplants. These had substantial binocular, infra-red, see through solid and other capabilities.

Six of the intruders took up good long range sniper positions, in the trees, and covering the dilapidated stone house. They had clearly known where to come. Earle wondered if a time displacee or conventional off-worlder might be guiding them.

Chris, Alex and Gabriella, had all been asleep inside the portahome and now wide awake and filled with adrenalin they ramped up their protective force field to it's maximum as Earle had shown them. At the higher level it was enough to withstand limited heavy calibre machine gun fire but nothing more. The crumbling stone walls that surrounded them might also help a little, maybe.

Earle took out the snipers first. His weapon looked deceptively simple. Not the long range OTH disruptor that he had used earlier, but something designed for short to medium ranges. It was a small detachable part of his belt. To it's recipients it gave a new meaning to the word stun. Every last one of the snipers was down completely immobilized and would be for the best part of a week to come. In fact they would never fully recover from it.

If this seemed harsh it was just the hard reality for anyone who got on the wrong side of Earle Gagne – be it Governments, organized crime or whomever. Still he didn't actually kill any of them and they were not in great pain.

After the snipers, Earle took out the other twelve men, all Navy Seals. He didn't entirely get things his own way. These were good men, among the best their country had to offer. They knew they were up against something they couldn't see but might still be able to hurt and carried out an established technique. Withering suppressing fire against an invisible target. That is until they suffered the same fate as the snipers.

Despite his anticipation, reaction time and sheer speed, Earle was hit more than once but his personal force field stopped the bullets. Even if they hadn't the incredibly strong light armor woven into his shirt and pants probably would have done so. With Earle proving almost semi invulnerable his speed and absolutely unerring accuracy only hastened the inevitable result.

To the rest of the FBI and Navy Seals now at a distance it was assumed the entire 18 man assault team had all been killed. These remaining forces were ordered off to a greater distance from the stone house.

After a brief lull things started to hot up again. Earle sensed something was going down even before his advanced instrumentation detected it. Still well over the horizon and coming in low were no less than eight Apache attack helicopters. Earle disabled 4 of them with his OTH disruptor with the last of the four erupting in a fire ball on forced landing. Clearly it was carrying weapons ordinance and a great deal of it. Earle raced back to the stone house disabling another two Apaches as he ordered everyone out of the portahome and into the small cavern at the base of the nearby mountain. Perhaps this would have been a better spot for the portahome.

The two remaining helos opened fire at a considerable distance then veered off. By now it was clear they were being taken out by some sort of disruptor that could operate even over the horizon. Not knowing its full range they chose not to underestimate it. A fraction of the ordinance of one Apache was far too much for the stone house and force field protected portahome which were engulfed in the conflagration. The four moved as far back into the cavern as they could which was not nearly enough.

Earle had already realized, at the explosion of the first helicopter, that there was a fundamental change of tactics by their pursuers. For some reason Gabriella, along with the rest of them, was now clearly very expendable. It seemed that if the Government couldn't have her, then nobody could. If shifters were coming this way Earle could understand these actions, but he did not sense anything.

At his instruction Chris, Alex and little Gabriella all held on to Earle's big frame as he "phased" through the solid rock at the back of the cavern taking them deeper into the mountain and not a moment too soon as the explosion from the Apache attack roared into the small cavern. Earle later explained that the phasing allowed them to move effortlessly through the hardest of solid objects as they were temporarily in a limbo between our own and the next adjacent dimension. No doubt he could also have brought all four within the ambit of his personal force field but the phasing seemed better.

The four had plenty of time to talk as they looked for a comfortable spot in the labyrinth of caverns in the mountain. The FBI and the military, now in massive force, hung around the mountain area for a long time. They sifted through the few remains of the stone house and porta home. They probed the mountain base in various areas. They detonated explosions against the mountain base causing a cave-in around the small cavern where the foursome had first retreated. Earle seemed content to let them do that.

"A lot of the stuff you have is very good" said Gabriella "but if you are from that far in the future shouldn't you just be able to sort of snap your fingers and make them all go away?" Earle had a little chuckle but saw that Chris and Alex were also looking for his answer to that question. He explained that quite a bit had happened over the intervening years to retard the advance of human civilisation. Among them two thermonuclear exchanges and three major alien incursions. Earth had become a relative backwater world but still had contact with the more advanced civilizations.

Earle explained his backpack was standard issue for a long Earth field trip. If the field trip was to an Earth type world or the (occasional) inter-dimensional jaunt then there would be extras. Of course Chris and Alex hadn't even seen everything that was in Earle's present "bag of tricks". They couldn't even begin to guess what else the back pack might hold.

In the large cavern that they found themselves and with time on their hands Earle decided to open his backpack right out to its true capacity. In effect allowing the items that were effectively stored in other dimensions, to all appear in our dimension. The way in which Earle unfolded it reminded Chris of nothing so much as a large sewing box with layered sets of deep drawers unfolding in all directions.

The capacity of the back pack was truly enormous. While some of its contents were obvious even to Gabriella, Chris and Alex could only guess at what other items might be.

It dawned on both Chris and Alex that there was probably fire power enough here to dismiss the military, still milling around outside, with relative ease. For some reason, presumably concern for his charges, Earle had been content not to do this.

Chris and Alex had accepted at face value many things that Earle had said. One thing that really troubled and bewildered them was Earle's talk of time displacements of entities. He had said that these events were almost common place. They both wondered what else there was that Earle hadn't yet told them about. Though not a scientist still Chris pondered on the ramifications of all the continuing time displacements of entities on the timestream. Or perhaps there was a higher purpose in the time displacements. Or at least some godly force kept an eye on these seemingly random displacements. Balancing them out in some grand cosmic scheme.

Earle also explained that only the most basic of his equipment was manufactured on the backwater Earth of the future. Earth was able to access this equipment from more advanced worlds for "favours". These favours included future Earth's great export – law enforcement expertise – especially tracking down felons on remote worlds. Earle didn't mention that he was the Earth's best at doing this very thing He had been sought out for temporary assignments in a variety of Earth type worlds and a couple of different dimensions.

Eventually most of the FBI and military seemed to leave though Earle saw that a few watchful individuals remained. Making their way through a combination of walking and phasing the four came out the other side of the mountain. Earle detected no one in this vicinity but he partially "masked" them as they moved away on foot. Just about now Chris began to lament the loss of her SUV.

Her attitude did not change much at Earle's final withdrawal from the seemingly unlimited storage of his backpack. A compact but comfortable cross between a motor cycle and a bicycle the length of which he quickly extended from two to four seats. As all four were comfortably seated it rose several meters off the ground travelling, so Earle said, on magnetic lines of force. No need for pedals said Earle, as they sped off at quite a good rate of knots. Gabriella was loving it but the two women felt the entire thing had a mildly ET flavour to it. "Perhaps we should have just hidden in your backpack" laughed Alex, not entirely joking.

"Now let's really find someplace where the four of us can have the FBI and shifters and everyone else off our backs and where we can relax and unwind for a while" said Chris "Amen to that" said Alex. Both women seemed to be looking at Earle as they spoke.

After just a few moments of flight both Chris and Alex realized their means of transportation was far more than a Mary Poppins or ET type flying bicycle. They found themselves enveloped by a modest force field and flying smoothly and noiselessly a few metres above ground at quite impressive speed. Apparently the conveyance, whatever it was called, was invisible and undetectable from the ground. It was also surprisingly comfortable with largely automatic functions.

The foursome covered a good distance before coming across an isolated, unoccupied and very attractive two story mansion. From a discreet distance Earle remote accessed a computer in the house and was able to establish that its occupants were on long term holidays. It seemed like a reasonable place to stay. Earle used his advanced technology to set up a modest force field about the key living areas. He also arranged a limited masking of the house so that to anyone viewing from outside it would appear unoccupied. Human activity in and about the house and lighting would not be detectable.

Finally the four seemed to have found a place where they dared to hope they could relax and unwind, at least for long enough to give themselves time to think.

Earle asked Chris if he could do some "tests" from his own time on Gabriella. They covered intelligence, creativity, certain aptitudes, and motivation. They also searched for evidence of shape shifting and other additional unspecified powers. Some of the tests were designed for humans, some for shifters and some for both. Gabriella scored "off the scale" in every single test. Earle saw now what he had suspected – just why everyone was after Gabriella. The records held in Earle's time of early 21st century Earth were fragmentary at best. Still Earle had heard the legends. Perhaps they were true. If so the small girl must be protected at all costs. Yet he could be pulled back to his own time at any moment. How much to tell Chris and Alex?

Earle reached into the inter-dimensional storage of his ever present backpack pulling out a belt not dissimilar to his own. It didn't contain any weaponry but it offered a personal force field at least equal to his own. In an emergency the field could be extended to protect another two to three people that were in physical contact with the belt owner.

Later Earle, Chris and Alex inspected the computing facilities in the house. By contemporary standards they were excellent but primitive by the standards of Earle's time. As before Earle used his ubiquitous multi-purpose tool to interface with one of the PC's in the house. In moments he was into the FBI's most secure data bases pulling up information beyond even the top secret classification. He then did the same with the military, hacking with total ease in to a variety of data bases including the Pentagon itself and a separate Navy Seals data base. Project Super Changeling caught his attention being mentioned several times. Earle saw that the authorities of this time were only guessing at what he had determined objectively, but they were not so far from the mark.

From accessing Project Super Changeling Earle saw that the authorities believed his group to be still alive and on the run but didn't know exactly where they were. This was the good news. The bad news was the Authorities had been assisted by a time displacee. Not a shifter though and not clear what time period or where they came from. Suddenly Earle was denied further access to the FBI computers. The time displace at work Earle revised downwards his estimate as to how long the authorities would take to find them.

Earle didn't feel that Chris or Alex were ready yet to know the full importance of Gabriella to future human history. For the time being at least Chris was happy to accept that her daughter was someone very special that needed to be protected at all costs. Which of course, as a mother, she knew anyway.

Later that evening the four helped themselves to the excellent cuisine and fine wines within the house eating easily their best meal since Earle had met up with them. No one could be sure when they would be able to eat that well again. "You seem very good at making adjustments and adaptations to your equipment" volunteered Alex "do you have some sort of engineering training in your time?" Earle explained that he had some electronic engineering training and was self taught as a mechanic and electrician. He didn't add that in an emergency he could also pilot a starship. Somehow it didn't seem relevant and also it seemed more than a little boastful.

"If we can get to the right place with the right resources" said Earle "and if I can have enough time, and with what's already in my backpack I'm pretty sure I can protect us all against anything this time has to offer" "Anything?" asked Chris." "Yes" replied Earle. "Even displaced shifters and other assorted time displacees!" he thought to himself.

Their temporary home had excellent contemporary security facilities. In the form of sensor lights, motion alarms, closed circuit TV and the like all of which Earle had easily defeated to enter the mansion initially. Earle just decided to augment these capabilities using his knowledge of advanced technology. All these security devices were linked into the home computer and their range and proofing against deception drastically increased. Earle made it look easy. Even so their best protection was still Earle's personal sensor alarms not the least of them his well developed yet still uncanny sixth sense ability to perceive danger.

It was all the more surprising then, when the shifters got so close before they were detected. Earle had been awake on guard duty most of the night and was just taking a short nap in the small hours. His sensory capabilities took just that bit longer to kick in. By the time he alerted the others and got them going every alarm and sensor light in the mansion was on.

For Earle, the shifters being here, and in numbers defied everything he knew about them. There had to be an explanation.

The curious thing was, that Earle's masking of the mansion was still working. Even with all the sound and light, anyone human 100 meters from the mansion would have sworn that it was unoccupied. Or at least that the occupants were all tucked up in bed asleep.

The shifters were everywhere. How come there were so many of them? Worse still they were armed. Earle had never met the shifter he couldn't take down and was pretty confident of being able to take two. Dosed with the drug boostein he could almost certainly take three even at close quarters. To take five at close quarters though and still protect the women and girl was asking too much even of him.

Of course Earle never stayed anywhere where he hadn't first devised an escape plan. The mansion was well designed and had easy access to a comfortable basement and slightly less comfortable sub basement area. Chris thought the latter may have been built in the cold war days. The building was old enough for that. The sub basement even had a small corridor leading away underground from it. They had already checked out where that went and had pre-positioned Earle's flyer at the end of the corridor in undetectable mode.

As Earle brought up the rear, Chris, Alex and Gabriella headed out the sub basement exit and down the underground corridor. The first of the shifters still in a semi-human form was close behind. In the narrow confines of the corridor Earle, now on boostein, took out the first pursuer. Fully knowing all it's weaknesses he made it look easy. The other shifters following them, Earle had counted at least four, wisely hesitated.

As the foursome reached the pre-positioned flyer Earle finally spoke "now to show you what this flyer can really do."

No sooner were they in flight several meters above the ground than four shifters, taking the form of large birds, were in pursuit.

While a shifter could take almost any shape it usually had to be a form of similar weight. The earlier shifter appearing as a bear had been stretching it. A shifter couldn't take the form of a small insect or (say) an elephant.

These avians though, were not related to anything of Earth. Semi reptilian and unashamedly carnivorous they were uncomfortably fast and not troubled at all by the stealth capabilities of the flyer. Somehow able to detect even the faintest traces of body heat of the flyers occupants. Earle knew these semi reptilian birds were among the most efficient and deadly forms that the shifters could take.

Earle needed his near instant reaction speed to take out the shifters. It took at least two bolts from his energy weapon to take out each one. For all his speed the last surviving shifter was upon him before he could fire off another energy bolt. He needn't have worried. The thing reeled off in intense pain. It was his first experience of what Gabriella, the shifter child, might be capable of. Chris and Alex seemed not to realize that it was Gabbie's doing.

After that no more shifters followed them. Earle knew there had to be other shifters back at the house and guessed from the sound of incoming choppers that the FBI was arriving on the scene and keeping them entertained.

Earle decided the time had come to get well and truly away from this area. A continental distance away. A chance for a bit of real breathing space. He warned Chris and Alex of his intentions.

Moving to a height of several thousand meters the flyer really took of, soon achieving about mach 2.0. Notwithstanding the protective force shields about the flyer, Chris and Alex were staggered by the sensation of such speed in the tiny flyer which was still comparatively close to the ground. Gabbie seemed completely unperturbed.

Los Angeles

Several months later

Chris and Gabbie had quietly and invisibly blended into suburban Los Angeles. Since their arrival in the great city they had not been troubled either by the shifters or the FBI or anyone else. Though they now seemed comparatively safe, Alex had remained with them.

Before the inevitable intertemporal forces had taken him from them, Earle had done his best to ensure their future security.

Using rare gems contained in his backpack Earle had purchased as secure a house as money could buy. He had then set about making it even more secure. Using not only the resources contained within his deceivingly roomy backpack but also the full extent of his knowledge of a science 10,000 years ahead of our own.

The full range of contemporary security measures existed within the large house and its extensive grounds. Added to this were a range of force field protections, for the garden perimeter, for the whole house and for individual rooms and basement areas. Earle had installed an advanced computer capable of detecting potential intruders long before they approached the house. Most important of all, if under attack, the house could be "phased" into an insubstantial state existing between our own and the next adjacent dimension. It could remain in this state with Chris, Alex, and Gabbie safe until any conceivable threat had passed.

Safe and protected Gabbie's latent powers, as the exceptional child of a human mother and shape-shifter father, had begun to manifest themselves. She had kept the individual force shield belt that Earle had provided her. Wearing it all times and often making sure that her mother lay within its ambit. It was obvious though to both Chris and Alex that the time was coming when, neither any visiting alien shape shifters, nor the FBI, nor any other human agency would be able to trouble Gabbie.

10,000 years in the future Earle Gagne, variously elite policeman, starship trooper, mercenary, gladiator and even emergency starship pilot looked back fondly on his experiences on the Earth of the past. In particular on what he viewed as his greatest ever role. The protection of the young shifter child, her mother and mother's friend.

Earle did not need to wonder if Gabriella had survived. The evidence of this was all about him.

The Earth remained still a relatively backwater world. However a movement started by Gabriella after she reached adulthood had spread out into the stars. Affecting not just Earth but all of the known worlds colonized by humankind. The records and links from Earth's present to its past were also now much less tenuous than Earle had recalled. To this extent human history had been changed.

Earle knew that his own inter temporal displacement had been anything but a random event.