As the day wore on, the visitors to Mexico decided to spend some time on the beach. There was little else they really could do. They decided to try to make the best of the circumstances and do what they could to act like they were on vacation.

Tim and the boys headed into the protected cove on sea kayaks while Joanna and Mr. Freeman sat under a cabana on the beach, enjoying a drink served in a coconut. Mr. Freeman was again dressed in a short-sleeve shirt, and Joanna had trouble keeping her eyes off of the brands on the inside of his arms.

“They are frightening, aren’t they?” Mr. Freeman remarked as Joanna seemed lost in thought, gazing intently at his arm.

“I’m sorry, what?” she replied with some surprise.

“The scars on my arms,” he said.

“Mr. Freeman, I am sorry for my coldness the last few days,” she began. “I just don’t know what to think.”

“It’s quite alright. You’re a mother, with two boys, and just discovered that someplace in my past lies something quite horrible. Along with everything else that has happened in the last two days, you are right to be apprehensive,” Mr. Freeman told her.

“I just feel as if I passed judgment on you without knowing anything. I try to be a better person than that. All I know is what the scar says. I don’t know what it means.”

Atticus, looking at his arm, remembered how the searing heat of the laser burned his skin. His mind flashed to the moment he saw Alorus struggling for life on the playground, to the terror of Jackos the Giant, to the isolation of military training, and to the sense of vile disgust of having been paired with Dr. Nahash Tarea. He closed his eyes as a tear forced its way into the corner of one eye. All he could see was Alorus, lying in a pool of his own blood. How many times would he have to ask himself why it couldn’t have been himself rather than the boy?

“Mr. Freeman,” Joanna said softly, a compassion flowing from her that he had never felt, “please tell me who you really are. I need to know the truth.”

It wasn’t an easy story to tell, but he told her of the foolish teenage boy that he was, who got mixed up with a powerful drug dealer. He was young and stupid; he should have never sold the rath to Alorus, but he did, and it cost the boy his life. He told her of being stunned and arrested, the brutality of the justice processing, and the horror of prison life. There was compassion from a guard whose name he never knew, an isolated military life, and the opportunity to come to Earth. He told her of the time he betrayed his own people and thought that he had killed Dr. Tarea, and then went on to slaughter the rest of his crew.

He’d spent a year wandering through the mountains of Tibet, then another year wandering through Asia, and another year in Europe. He didn’t know if he was looking for something, just exploring, or just hoping to find peace. Eventually, he returned to the United States, having decided that he never wanted the people of Koranth and Zoranth to invade. He got into computers and spent much of his time trying to find Transprophetics. He even returned to Thailand but never could find any trace of the girl, Maliya. He’d traced hundreds of potential Transprophetics but was mostly able to prove to himself that they were fakes, without resorting to any of the horrific procedures that the supposed experts liked to use.

In some ways it was ironic. He had become a Transprophetic hunter, like the horrid Dr. Tarea, but he was different. He had always hoped that he would find a second Transprophetic, and then he would simply wait and watch. If another mission from his world found the Transprophetic whom he was watching, he planned to simply kill the team. But he never discovered another Transprophetic, despite all the years of searching.

He left few details out. She deserved to know. He was from Koranth, and he had been involved in her children’s lives. He was responsible for taking the life of a child, a burden he would carry forever. He just hoped she believed that her sons were never in any danger from him. When he was done, he looked at his arms again. The paradox was so real. The scar had defined so much of his life, but it wasn’t who he really was.

For Joanna, it was a hard story to hear. He really wasn’t that much older than Dylan when he had sold the rath to the little boy. His life was nothing that she could even really imagine. She looked at him, as he stared at the scars on his arms, and saw the man that he was. He may have had a terrible past and done some terrible things, but the man she saw under the cabana had been there for her sons. Some people can never put the past aside, but she decided to believe what she had seen with her own eyes – the man who had cared for her boys. He had befriended, comforted, and tutored them. He’d put his own life at risk to save theirs. He was their family friend, and in her heart, she knew he always would be.

“Atticus,” she said softly, not knowing how the next words would even come out of her mouth. “You are our friend. Please help protect the boys.”

“Of course, I will,” he assured her. “I don’t know if I know how to do anything else. Whether today or tomorrow, a storm will come, and I will do everything that I can to help all of you.”

They sat and watched as Tim, Dylan, and Bjorn splashed each other with the kayak paddles. Their laughter could be heard above the gentle waves that spread onto the sandy beach. If it weren’t for the events of the last two days, it would be hard to believe that this wasn’t just a wonderful family vacation.

“Can I ask you one other thing?” Joanna added.

“Of course, I have little left to hide,” replied Atticus.

“Have you forgiven yourself?”

It was a thought that had become so foreign that it barely entered his mind. “No,” he replied slowly, “I wouldn’t even know how.”

“Atticus,” she said, trying to keep herself from crying too. “You have to eventually. You are a good man with a good heart. It was so long ago. I know that it has shaped much of your life, but it doesn’t define who you are. I hope you can find a way to finally let it go.”

• • •

Chapter 40 Chapter 42

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