Copyrights on works of creative belong to the author (1997); however, no infringement is intended or implied upon the creations of Glen Morgan, James Wong and Hard Eight Productions.

Comments are always welcome at April Fool



April Fool

The mission had been a balls up from the beginning, thought Anne Gordon.

Amadon was a frozen chunk of rock; hardly worth anyone's effort. Definitely not worth dying for, she thought as she knelt over her two med techs. She had no feelings at all as she looked at their mangled bodies. These were my friends, and I can't even grieve.

"Don't touch them," ordered a young lieutenant, touching her shoulder. "There may be more booby traps we haven't found."

Anne turned her attention to Captain Sam Miller, the other doctor on her team. He was still alive, and the most badly hurt of the casualties. The three injured Marines from the 58th were not hurt so bad that they needed immediate attention, but she could see that Sam was hurt bad.

The mission had been simple. That's probably why it got screwed up so badly. The 58th and her medical team were to extract the 79th, that had reported catastrophic injuries. Intelligence showed the Chigs had left the planet, the system actually, but her dead team mates would get little comfort from that information.

Their ISSCV had taken a hit during insertion, so the medical team and the 58th hit the ground running. The wind had nearly knocked them off their feet as they jumped out of the ship, and the blowing snow hissed as it met the hot metal of the ISSCV.

Belle Baker and Ray Watson had gotten to the 79th's position first. It had been beaten into their heads that Chigs sometimes booby-trap bodies, but their medical training had taken over. Anne hadn't seen what happened, she'd been behind a burly tank the others called Hawkes. The heavy med bag slowed her down and was awkward. She momentarily stooped to reseat the bag on her shoulder, which saved her life.

A flash, a loud bang, and the concussion of warmer wind signalled the fact that something had occurred. Anne stood up and saw that Sam Miller, who had been directly behind her, had a large piece of metal embedded in his upper chest. It took her only a second to decide that his wounds were fatal.

The med techs, Belle and Ray, were nearly unrecognizable as people. Their bodies were badly mutilated and burned. The smell of charred flesh and hair turned her stomach, but she turned her attention to the living. Anne examined the wounded Marines swiftly. Colonel McQueen had shrapnel in both legs, but only one wound was deep. Captain Vansen appeared to have sustained a concussion, but was not obviously bleeding. Her signs were stable, so Anne turned to the third injury. The tank who had been in front of her had a gash in his forehead which would require fusing, but was not life threatening. She ordered a young Asian lieutenant to put a pressure bandage on Colonel McQueen's left leg, and handed Hawkes a pad for his forehead.

Anne sat down on the frozen ground next to Sam Miller. His lips and fingers had already turned blueish, indicating to her that the blood loss and cold were deadly. The jagged metal had severed the aorta, and he was close to bleeding out. Anne raised his head into her lap. She could feel Sam's warm life seeping into her khakis, but she needed the physical connection with him. His eyelids fluttered, then opened a little. "Hurts," he said. "Cold, so cold, too."

"I know," Anne said gently. "You have a message for Candy?"

"Tell her I always loved her, and that I'm waiting for her." Sam reached for Anne's hand, but couldn't make his arm work. It flopped against her leg, where she reached for it.

"I'll tell her," promised Anne. Tears seeped out and ran down her cheeks. Some of the shock had worn off and she now could process the deaths of her friends. She felt Sam shudder, and then was still.

"Doctor?" intruded a young female marine, "We have to leave this area now. We're too exposed, both from cold and the Chigs'll be here soon if they're out there . What do we have to do to get everyone moved?"

Anne reluctantly got up and checked the unconscious Marine. Vansen's pupils remained normal and her vital signs strong. Anne called, "Captain Vansen? Wake up." There was no response.

"Let me try," offered a thin young man. "Shane. Shane. Wake up, Shane."

Slowly the dark-haired woman began to rouse. "Watch her eyes." Ordered Anne. "If her pupils become dilated - open wider than normal - call me. Also, ask her questions to see if she's got any memory lapses. You know, who's the president, what year is it, who's the Saratoga's commander. Stuff like that." Anne abandoned Vansen in the care of Lieutenant West.

Hawkes squatted beside the remains of the 79th and her med techs. "You okay?" asked Anne, pulling the bandage away from the seeping wound.

"Yea, Doc. Hurts like hell, though." He gestured toward the stiffening bodies. "We gonna bury them?"

"I'd like to," she replied, "but I'm not sure its prudent to disturb anything else here. There may be more explosives."

"Okay." Hawkes turned his shaggy head back to look at the devastation. "Hell of a way to go."

"Yea," Anne agreed. "They were my friends. I'm sorry to see anyone die. But it's really bad when they're your friends."

"And its worse when you can't do anything about it," Hawkes said, holding her eye.

She smiled grimly, realizing how close to the target he had hit. This one's smarter than your average tank, she thought. "I'll fuse your cut when we get settled in. I can give you some aspirins right now," she offered.

"No! Nothing! I don't want anything to ease the pain," he said sharply.

Anne got up and moved over to the Colonel, her surprise at Hawkes' refusal of pain medication, filed away to examine at a later date.

"How you feeling?" she asked the Colonel. The white-haired man was propped up, both legs out in front in a "V." She noted that McQueen was actually a young man, late thirties, maybe 40, rather than the 50 she had first saddled him with. "Fine," he grunted. "Ready for a 10-mile march. Your team?"

"All gone." She loosened the pressure pads to check the wounds. The right leg would probably be okay without further attention. He'd been peppered good with shrapnel, maybe 10 small punctures, but none deep. She cut his left pants leg to allow better examination of the worse wound. A jagged tear in his thigh barely missed the femoral artery. "You got a nice little scar-maker here," she noted. This wound needed some fusing, but she didn't want to do it here if she could help it. "When's extraction?" She gave herself a couple of hours before she had to permanently fuse the wound.

"'Phousse! Get extraction time and place," yelled McQueen into Annes' ear as she sprayed aznocaine into the wound. While Damphousse checked with the Saratoga, Anne put on a temporary skin patch. It would hold the gaping wound together better than a bandage, and would dissolve in a few hours if no permanent fusing was done.

"Colonel, I'm not getting any transmission. I'll need to set up the com equipment and get voice confirmation," said Damphousse after a long pause.

"Can we go yet?" asked Colonel McQueen impatiently. "I don't like sitting out here in the open."

"We can move now, but not far, and not fast. I've put skin on your leg, but it could come loose. If you feel it bleeding, call me. If you feel too much pain, call me. Your leg's in bad shape, and I don't want it to get worse." I don't want you to die, too, said Anne's inner voice.

"Alright, listen up," McQueen ordered. "Let's move up that hill. It has better cover. Hawkes and Wang, I need you here. Damphousse, you and the Doctor help Vansen. West, you're point."

"I'm all right," objected Vansen.

"That's an order, Captain," said McQueen.

Slowly, painfully slowly, they made their way up the slope. Anne watched McQueen out of the corner of her eye. His face was ashen and sweat glistened off his brow, even as the cold wind buffeted them. The hill was difficult to negotiate and small scrubby plants made numerous obstacles to avoid. When they had gone a quarter of a mile, they came to a rocky overhang which provided a good place to rest.

Anne checked McQueen's wound, then sprayed them again with topical analgesic. "This will help with the pain until I can get you permanently fused," she said. "Are you allergic to antibiotics?"

"No. Just to green meanies." McQueen leaned against the rocks, obviously spent.

Anne looked at him, surprised. "You're a tank, too?" She'd never known an in-vitro to have risen so high in rank.

"Yea, you have a problem with it?"

Anne heard the bitterness in his voice, but knew this was not the time or place to deal with his emotional baggage. "Colonel, I don't give a shit if you're a green tree monkey, you're my patient and I'm gonna keep you alive. That's what I do. And while we're visiting this subject, you don't know me well enough to accuse me of prejudice!"

Anne got up and moved over against the stone cliff face a dozen yard away. She bristled at McQueen's question, but as she sat absorbing the wan sunshine, she realized that he was probably so used to people who viewed IVs as an inferior life form that it was a defense mechanism. Well screw you, McQueen, she thought. I'm not prejudiced against tanks. Can't afford to be.

While she rested, she watched Damphousse and Wang assemble the communications equipment. They moved purposefully and efficiently, not talking. After the equipment was erected, Damphousse fiddled with the controls, her handsome face creased in concentration. Finally she walked over to the Colonel and she reported to him. Anne strained to hear them but finally gave up. If they wanted her to know, they'd tell her, she reasoned.

"Wang! West!" called McQueen. "Scout around and find us a place to camp. This is better than nothing, but I'd like more cover, because this cold is going to be hell tonight."

Tonight! thought Anne. She'd assumed the Saratoga would be picking them up soon. She got up and stood over McQueen. "How long are we going to be here?" she asked. "You need to be fused soon."

"Well, Major, you might as well get started, because we aren't going anywhere for the time being." Anne fetched the heavy medical bag, dropping on the ground beside the Colonel. Anne disinfected her hands, and cut the right pants leg from calf to groin. She disinfected the smaller wounds, then put spot bandages on them. She enlarged the cut she had made in the left pant, mirroring the one she had made on the right pants leg. She removed the skin patch, then disinfected the leg and probed the wound, finding only a small sliver of metal still embedded in the wound. She took out her CO2 dispenser and shot three shots of aznocaine around the wound. When the area was numb, she pulled out the fuser and carefully fused the edges of the wound together. It was not the most beautiful job she'd ever done, and he'd be left with a large y-shaped scar, but he would get back to the Saratoga alive, if she had anything to do with it. "All done," she said finally. "You were lucky. Two inches over and you'd have bled to death from the femoral artery."

McQueen shifted slightly, and then asked, "Now that you've cut my pants to shreds, how am I going to stay warm?"

Anne paused, taken aback, then realized this was his attempt at humor. With his deadpan delivery, she'd almost missed it.

"Well now you won't have to unzip to piss, will you?" she shot back, pleased at her quick response. Then she realized that she sounded like her dad, General Mike Gordon. For the past 4 years she'd struggled to make her own way in the Marines without his assistance, but now his words came out of her mouth. Oh well, she thought, you can't fight your upbringing. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a roll of adhesive tape, deftly taping the cloth back into a semblance of its original form. 'I hear this is all the rage in Paris," she added.

The sun was only a few degrees over the horizon when Wang and West returned. "We found a cave up the hill a ways," reported West breathlessly.

"And there's plenty of deadfall for a fire," added Wang.

"Let's move then, people," ordered McQueen.

Again they made their way up the hill, trying to hurry, but making worse time than ever, since McQueen's leg was giving him more pain than before. In the waning light they would have missed the cave, but Wang had tied a handkerchief to a shrub.

The cave was dry, with two small chambers. The smaller chamber was in front with a rocky irregular floor. The second chamber was larger about ten by fifteen at the largest dimension, and luckily had a flat floor, which was very nearly level. It was obvious that the larger chamber would allow them to sleep and the fire could be built in the narrow passage between the chambers. Predators, if any, on this planet, would have to come around the fire before getting to them.

Anne, Wang, West, and Damphousse went out to gather deadfall. As Wang had said, there was plenty of small sticks and vegetation, but little of any substance. It would not burn very hot or very long. The wood would burn down long before the night was over.

Cold MREs in a cold cave is not very conducive to chatting. The 58th and Anne sat glumly eating their cold meals in the dim cave. After supper, they inventoried equipment. Anne had two blankets in her med bag, and she wished for the two she'd left behind in Sam's kit. The members of the 58th had insulated ponchos, so she knew she'd be the cold one tonight. Well, there was nothing to do about it, except pray that tomorrow they'd be extracted.

After the women took their call to nature, Anne spread one of the blankets down under her. She called McQueen over to her, and inspected her handiwork. She gave him an antibiotic, then gave him a booster in the arm, just to make sure. "This all you have in your pack?" He asked, gesturing at her thermal blankets.

"Yea, we were given about 15 minutes warning before the mission, and we were told this was an in-and-out, so we just grabbed our parkas and bags. We never thought it would be like this." She pulled the hood of her parka into a knot behind her head. It wasn't a pillow, but it was better than nothing. "How's your leg feeling?"

"Hurts like a son-of-a-bitch. What have you got that's not addictive?" McQueen gingerly spread his poncho out beside her. Even though she could have done it for him, she got the feeling that McQueen wouldn't want her help. She also decided not to acknowledge their previous discussion of green meanies. If he was asking for pain medicine, he was in real pain.

Anne gave him a couple of pills, "Guaranteed not to be addictive, but it won't completely block pain, either. It'll take the edge off, but that's about it."

Damphousse spread out her pallet on Anne's other side. Gradually they all settled in, except Wang, who had the first watch. It was cold, brutally cold. Anne slept fitfully, waking often, hearing strange sounds, but mostly from cold. The last few hours she sank into an exhausted sleep.

When she awoke, she was warmer, but that was because she had snuggled up against McQueen. She opened her eyes but it was still dark.

"I didn't realize we were on such good terms," he whispered.

"Don't joke with me," said Anne. "You're warm. I'm cold."

McQueen put his poncho over the both of them. "Better?"

"Um-hum," she said. She dozed momentarily, then realized how long it had been since she had been this close anyone. Strange, she hadn't even looked at the Colonel as a man yesterday. He was her patient yesterday, but today she was acutely aware of McQueen as a man. And then she also thought of how much she wanted this man in particular. She wanted to kiss him, but wondered if he would rebuff her. She wasn't sure if she should take the chance, but it was really too simple. She turned her face up to his and found that he'd pretty much been thinking the same thought.

After a few moments Anne heart a noise and lifted her head to see Shane Vansen squatting across the cave from her beside the coals of last night's fire. Even in the dim light she could feel a malevolent stare and knew that Vansen had been watching McQueen kissing her. Well that was tough wasn't it? Putting her head back down, she snuggled back into McQueen's neck, hoping that it would be a while before the others awoke. McQueen's mouth met hers again, but this time for only a brief moment; a loud snapping noise startled them. McQueen sat up, pulling the covers from over Anne's head, and revealing Shane Vansen, stoking the fire.

"Good morning," Shane said as she added sticks to the fire. "Rise and shine, it's oh-five-hundred."

Anne groaned and pulled the covers back over her head, but it was too late. Around her she heard the sound of sleepers awakening. Anne got up and wrapping a blanket around her like a buffalo hide, went out to take her morning potty break. The sun had not risen yet, and the wind was stronger than she remembered. Her breath made a frosty rime on the blanket where her damp breath had touched the cloth. While the cave was cold, there was no wind to freeze dry her fingers and toes. She did her business quickly, both because of the awkwardness of peeing, and from the cold. With what she suddenly had on her mind, she decided that she didn't want anything useful to freeze off.

"Fuck that bitch anyway," she muttered to herself, still angry with Vansen. Anne knew she woke everyone up to keep Anne away from McQueen. But Vansen should know she couldn't get anything going with McQueen - he was her commander. So what was her motivation? Anne decided she didn't care. If she and McQueen were attracted to one another, what business of Vansen's was it?

Another cold breakfast followed. The cold soldiers huddled around the fire and discussed what to do. Anne was bracketed by Wang and Hawkes, and was not sure if they had been directed to keep her away from McQueen. She decided not, and realized that it was probably a good idea anyway. After all, he was their commanding officer, and he needed to stay detatched. He couldn't afford to have Anne hanging on him. She remembered her dad never mixed his personal affairs, and there had been plenty, with his military business.

"I want you to keep trying to get through to the Saratoga," directed McQueen to Damphousse.

"Yes, sir," she said shortly. Damphousse didn't ask or add anything more to the order. It was apparent that extraction orders were paramount to the 58th.

"We need to find more substantial firewood," offered Paul Wang. "I have a hand axe, but that won't cut much or fast."

"Do the best you can," said McQueen.

"Colonel," said Anne tentatively. A nod said he was glad for the formal honorific. "I'd like to go back to the insertion point and get Sam's - Dr. Miller's - med kit, and the tech's bags if they weren't destroyed. If we're here much longer we may need the drugs and the blankets will come in handy against this cold."

The colonel nodded again, then turned to West and said, "You go with her."

"I'll go," offered Shane Vansen. "West is stronger than I am, and he'll be of more use cutting firewood. I'll do guard duty."

Anne opened her mouth to object, but McQueen cut her off before she could make a sound. "That's an order, Major."

When the sun came up enough to see clearly, Shane Vansen and Anne Gordon made their way down the bluff. They walked at about the same speed the sun rose, the valley below them darker than their path. It was much easier and faster going down the hill. They didn't have a wounded McQueen to slow them down, and they had the benefit of gravity, even if it was only .84 of Earth normal. It took them only about an hour and a half to reach the cliff face where they'd stopped to rest yesterday. Shane stopped and rested against the rocks, not speaking to Anne. Anne was a little surprised at how long they had gone without a word passing between them, but she was determined not to be the one to break the silence. After a short break, Shane got up and hoisted her rifle, so Anne stood up and followed her. The second leg to the insertion point was mercifully close. Anne had remembered it as having been a long walk, but the events of the previous day seemed jumbled and confused. Vansen prodded Miller's pack with a long stick, motioning Anne to stay down. Since no explosion followed they assumed it had not been booby-trapped. Anne picked it up and rifled through it, noting that he also had two thermal blankets in his bag. Finally, Vansen spoke. "Are the tech bags the same as this one?"

"No, they're smaller and have hard sides. Black like this, but with a chrome trim around the edges."

Shane grunted a reply and began looking around for the tech's bags. While Anne repacked Miller's case, Shane called out, "This one?"

Anne stood and saw that Shane held a charred plastic lump. "Yea, looks like it. Looks like it's damaged too badly to open."

Shane took out her K-bar and used it to pry into the bag. With a twist, it popped open. The insides were covered in goo from one of the creams or unguents that had once been in a tube. The heat from the explosion must have cooked it off, causing it to explode in the bag. "Not worth keeping," said Anne.

Shane dropped the kit and they resumed their search. After a few minutes it was apparent that it had either been destroyed by the explosion or tossed far from the site.

"At least we got this one," said Anne. The doctor's bag was far more valuable to her because it contained the blankets and also stronger drugs if they needed them.

"Before we go, I got something I want to say to you," said Shane.

"I had a feeling you did," said Anne, sounding calmer than she felt. She had never experienced a jealous confrontation, but she knew she wasn't going to like it.

"Look," began Shane in a voice that reminded Anne of a teacher telling a student why one didn't wear microskirts without panties, "McQueen is off-limits."

"And who decided that?" asked Anne. "Are you his mommy?" She hoisted Miller's bag onto her shoulder and took a step away from Vansen. Then, she was no longer walking, but was spinning around to face Vansen, and just as quickly a fist struck her on the cheek, twisting Anne the other direction. She hit the ground with a painful jolt, Miller's bag grinding into her ribs below her left breast. The impact knocked the wind out of her, and rolled her onto her face, painfully giving her a taste of the frozen sand of Amadon. A rough pair of hands rolled her over and Anne saw Vansen getting closer, coming to rest on her chest.

"Ptth," she said, spitting dirt and blood out of her mouth. "Can't breathe."

Vansen moved down, sitting on Anne's belly, her k-bar in her right hand.

"Now listen here, bitch. I tried to tell you nice. Now I'm telling you straight. Leave McQueen alone. He doesn't need you fucking around with his head. He's had a tough life. He's lost everything he ever loved. Now he's got us, and he has the Marines. He doesn't need you, Navy."

Anne felt her mouth swelling against her teeth, and she couldn't open one eye very well. Probably got one hell of a shiner coming on, said the doctor inside her. "What makes you think I'm gonna hurt him?" she asked, not terribly plainly.

"Look, he's a tank. Doctors make tanks. They make them so they can ship them off to the mines. The make them sterile. When this war is over, you're going to go off to your private practice and make millions, and McQueen is going to be a tank Marine Colonel. That's the way it is. I can't take a chance you're going to screw with his head!"

As Vansen was speaking, Anne could feel her knees relaxing against Anne's ribs. Just as suddenly as Vansen had pinned Anne, she reached up, grabbed Vansen by the hair, and pushed her face-down into the ground. Anne now held the k-bar against Vansen's throat and with one of Vansen's arms behind her back. Anne leaned over with her face up next to Vansen's, her face almost in the dirt with Vansen's. "Okay, you had your say, now I get mine. I'm in this for the long haul, Vansen. I may be a Navy doctor, but I went to my first Marine Corps Birthday Ball when I was three years old. My father took me the year after my mom killed herself. Does the surname Gordon sound familiar?"

Vansen asked through a split lip, "General Mike Gordon? That's your dad?"

Anne nodded grimly. "That's the one. I wanted to be a doctor, he wanted me to be a Marine. We compromised. As for McQueen, he's a big boy, I'm a big girl. Whatever we choose to do, we'll do. A few kisses doesn't mean anything." Anne got up from Shane's back without releasing the arm pinioned behind Vansen's back. When she was certain Vansen couldn't reach her, she let go.

Vansen pushed up from the frozen ground and wiped blood and dirt off the scraped side of her face. "That was a good move," she said grudgingly.

Anne smiled even though it hurt. "Learned that from a gunny sergeant in Lejuene. I'll teach you my other tricks if you let me live." She held a hand to Vansen, making sure she was ready to roll if Shane wasn't ready to forgive and forget, but Vansen just pulled up on it.

They trudged up the hill, the wind occasionally dying down enough so that the cold was only moderate. When they reached the rest stop, Shane sat down and took a big drink out of her water bottle, then passed it to Anne. "Thanks," Anne said. They sat for a few moments, glad to be out of the wind. "What made you think I'd hurt McQueen?"

Shane looked at Anne a moment as if she didn't know herself, "I guess I just feel like I have to protect him. I don't know why. I guess I always had to protect everyone, so it's my natural response."

Anne nodded, hoping Shane would continue. She felt like her life was whizzing around her. This morning she and Shane hated each other, now they're buddies. In the past day she'd lost three of her best friends, found a potential friend, and then there was McQueen. She wasn't sure what that was.

"I'm a Marine brat too. Both parents were Marines, but they were killed by the sillies. I was responsible for my sisters, and I always felt like I had to make everything right for them. When they no longer wanted and needed my help, I joined up."

"And now you're responsible for the 58th," said Anne.

"I guess so."

"Well, you've come clean, so will I. I'm not prejudiced against tanks. I'm always trying to figure out In-vitro psychology." Anne paused, wondering if she should tell this part of her past. "Want to know why my mom killed herself? She couldn't deal with the Marine wives. It's a closed society, one a tank never could fit in with. No one but dad knew that she was a tank, but she was mortified that she'd embarrass him. She figured it'd be safer for him to be the husband of a suicide than the husband of a tank."

"No shit?" asked Shane. "Mike Gordon was married to a tank? I've always respected him as a soldier, but he must've been brave to marry a tank. There's a lot of prejudice now, but 30 years ago it must've been brutal."

"No shit. I never heard him say anything negative about my mom, or complain. He just doesn't talk about that part of his life. I don't think that's the way he's made, anyway. He lives in the present anyway. The past just isn't important to him like it is to the rest of us."

"Sometimes I wish I could just live in the present," said Shane almost wistfully.

"Me too," agreed Anne. She stood, signaling the end of their interlude.

"Wait," said Shane.


"I'm sorry I hit you. You can file charges if you like. I deserve it," Shane said earnestly.

"You couldn't help it if I clumsily fell," replied Anne. "By the way, how do I look?"

"You look like warmed over shit," laughed Shane.

"Well, you wanted McQueen to stay away. If I look as bad as I feel, you don't have to worry, he'll stay away."

When they walked into the camp, there was an air of joyous anticipation. "Hey Shane, they're extracting us first thing tomorrow! Holy Shit! What happened to you?"

Tripped over a rock," said Shane. Every face present evinced doubt that both Anne and Shane had somehow managed to trip over rocks, but there were no vocal expressions.

After supper Anne spread her blanket in the corner, away from where McQueen stood talking with West. She told herself she was not about to pursue McQueen, but she couldn't keep her eyes off of him. Well make that her one eye, the other had swollen closed. He moved well for having had a 5 inch fusing on his leg. He limped a bit, but had not taken anything but analgesics, so she was sure he'd be back to normal in a day or so. He must have felt her eyes on him, because he turned and walked over.

"You okay? I've seen shiners before, but that one's a beauty." This was the first time he'd spoken to her alone since this morning, and she felt a little uncomfortable.

"I think I'll live." What else could she say?

"Mind if I move in beside you?"

"I'd like that," she managed.

McQueen settled down beside her, and she wondered what Vansen thought. He's gotta be crazy to still be interested in a woman with a black eye and a sore mouth, she thought.

That night she snuggled against him, but he did not kiss her, nor pull her close the way he had the previous morning. Oh well, she thought, it was really nice while it lasted.

The ISSCV picked up the 58th, Anne, and the bodies of the 79th and the medical team with little fanfare and no explanation.

Back aboard the Saratoga, the 58th hurried off to be debriefed, and Anne checked in with Colonel Walters, head of Medicine. She didn't have a chance to speak to McQueen alone before they separated. Actually Anne wasn't really sure what to say anyway.

Colonel Walters looked at her eye, then told her to rest up a couple of days. She argued for effect, but knew he was probably right. She did need a couple of days for the bruising to go away. How long it would take for the experience on Amadon to go away, she wasn't sure.

When she got back to her quarters, she was appalled by the sight of her face in the mirror. Shane had certainly ensured that McQueen would not look at Anne again. The eye was partially open, but the skin around it was puffy and eggplant colored.

She dropped a gown over her head and crawled into bed, sure she couldn't sleep. The alarm woke her the next morning after 14 hours of sleep. She dressed in her sloppiest comfortable clothes and set about straightening her room. She was a haphazard housekeeper, but she found that she was feeling claustrophobic in the mess. About 1400 one of the med techs stopped in and checked on her, informing her that the memorial service for Dr. Miller, Ray Watson, and Belle Baker would be at 1800.

In her dress blacks, and with 14 hours of sleep, the bruise under her eye didn't look quite as bad. She stood with the other medical staff awaiting the chaplain. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a flash of navy blue and looked beside her to see Shane Vansen standing there in her dress blues. Anne was floored.

Vansen reached one white-gloved hand over and squeezed Anne's hand. "Needed to pay my respects," she whispered. As she spoke Wang, West, Damphousse, and Hawkes filed in. When she didn't see McQueen, Anne allowed herself to breathe. She hadn't realized how bad she wanted to see him.

The Chaplain came in, and behind him Commodore Ross. The Chaplain began his speech, and Anne studied her shiny black dress shoes; she'd never heard anything the Chaplain say that remotely interested her. She looked up again when "Boss" Ross began to speak. Over his shoulder stood a tall white-haired figure in dress blues. McQueen. Anne felt an inaudible gasp gather in her throat and the blood rushed to her face. Careful girl, came the voice of her internal caretaker, don't make a fool of yourself. You're acting like a sixteen-year-old with an excess of hormones.

Mercifully the ritual ended. The bodies of her friends were ejected into the deep of space. She shook hands with the Chaplain, Boss Ross, and various members of the 58th. McQueen was not there when she was finally able to leave.

She walked glumly to her cabin, realizing that if McQueen had wanted to speak to her, that would've been the easiest place. It was a formal situation which would dictate the forms of speech. He could end it without it being a rejection by giving her a formal indefinite farewell. Or he could start it up again by inquiring about her health or anything personal. Instead he had done neither. He hadn't kissed or, or kissed her off.

In her room she poured herself a large gin and tonic, then took off her topcoat. "To you, my friends," she said, hefting her drink into the air. "I'll miss you." Damn how smarmy can you get? You can't even toast your friends profoundly.

Anne was startled by a rap at her door. She called out, "Come."

McQueen, still in his blues, stuck his head in the door. "Care for some company?" He held a quart of scotch in his hand.

"Sure, come in," Anne said. McQueen put the scotch down and said, "Looks like you've already started drinking. Got another glass?"

Anne handed him the glass, not really knowing what to say. Finally she blurted out a question she'd been meaning to ask for the past few days. "Colonel, what's your first name? I think it's time I knew."

"That's a fair question. TC. Ty. Tyrus Cassius McQueen. I guess some whitecoat got a laugh at sticking some poor tank with a moniker like that." He took a drink of the neat scotch.

"Better than my mom's," said Anne. She'd never told anyone but Vansen about her mother. If there was anyone else in the world she wanted to know, it was McQueen. TC. "Her name was Denver Experimental. Nothing else. Soon as she served her hitch with the USO, she changed it to Kathryn Denver."

"A tank? Your mother was a tank?" McQueen sat down heavily on the bed, as if the Saratoga had lurched.

Anne came over and sat beside him. "Yes. No one else knows."

"That's a helluva secret." TC put an arm around her and pulled her close in was a comforting gesture, but there was more to it than comfort, if Anne wanted it. She decided she did and turned her face up to his.

A knock at the door woke Anne from her post-coital drowsing. She grabbed a robe and put a finger to her lips, as if McQueen would say anything to bring attention to the fact that he was there. Buttoning three buttons and clutching the top together, she opened the door.

It was Shane Vansen. "Uh, I just wanted to know if you wanted to go down to the Tuntavern and get a beer."

"Thanks, Shane, I'd like that, but not tonight." Anne was touched by her thoughtfulness.

"Look, I know you feel bad, but you can't hide away and mope. That place where I hit you doesn't look that bad, and you never know who else might be there," she added meaningfully.

"I really can't."

"Come on. I can't promise McQueen will be there, but we can talk." Vansen was really insistent.

Anne didn't know what to do, she wanted to be friends with Shane, but she couldn't go. As she debated over what to do, there came a loud cough from inside the room. It was an obviously male cough.

Vansen was quick. It didn't take her but a second, and a lop-sided grin grew on her face. "Well, another time, then," she said with a wink.

Anne closed the door and dropped the robe to the floor. She slid into the bed next to TC. "I knew she gave you that shiner," said McQueen.

"I aint saying nothing," said Anne. "Now come over here and curl my toes again." He complied.

The End

April Fool © 1997

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