The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.
from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
September 7, 2064, Planet 2053 Yankee - 1300 hours
Nathan and Mitch had been gone for two and a half days. Finding an
area to land the ISSCV had been easy, but Coop and Shane were kept busy
building camouflage, while Jenny stayed with ‘Phousse. The sick Marine
moved in and out of consciousness. Each time she woke up, she was
staying awake longer and longer, but she was weak and confused.
“Jenny?” Shane called as she came through the thick underbrush and down
the trial to the beach. She found the Doctor sitting in the mouth of
the cave, watching the waves, “how’s Vanessa?”
“Shhhhh,” the older woman looked over her shoulder. The young Marine
was resting a few feet away, in the protection of the overhang of rock.
“She’s sleeping quietly.”
“No more nightmares?” Shane frowned as she sat beside Jen. “I’ve
really been worried about her.”
“I’m taking good care of her,” Jenny smiled, but was afraid that Shane
saw through her concern.
“But whose going to take care of you?” The Captain stepped into the
cave and came back with Jen’s Angry Angel hat. “You need to wear this
when you’re outside, you’re getting sunburned.”
As the Doctor reached for her hat, Shane held it for a moment and
looked closely at the Angel insignia, “I thought you said I needed my
hat, Captain?” Jen raised her left eyebrow, daring the other woman to
make a comment.
“Please, Jenny, I have to know about that night?” Shane whispered. She
knew that something horrible had to have happened or the older woman
wouldn’t be wearing the Angel patch again. “Coop won’t talk about it
and there wasn’t anytime to talk to Nathan. Tell me what happened?
Where did it all go wrong?”
“You heard the facts the night we found you,” Jenny shrugged. “I’m not
sure what else I can tell you.”
“Screw the facts!” Shane’s voice shook. “Tell me what Nathan and Coop
know, that they aren’t talking about. The Colonel’s never coming back
is he? I can’t think of anything else that would make you wear that
“He is, he has to!” Jenny gasped. “The patch has nothing to do with
McQueen.” Was it a lie? She hoped not. “It’s for me, and me alone!” As
the afternoon grew late, she told Shane everything she knew about the
night that ended in disaster for the Wildcards. Though she tried to
talk calmly and factually, she was afraid that emotions slipped through
As Shane sat and listed to the Doctor, she wondered if the other woman
knew how graphic a picture she was painting of that terrible night. It
made the Marine realize how much worse it had been for the three that
were left behind.
Ten klicks away, at a higher altitude, and in much rougher terrain,
West and Connelly, were following a twisting trail through a wooded
“Nathan,” Mitch whispered as he peered around the next bend in the
trail. “Look at that,” below them on a small plateau was a two-building
“This place has that utilitarian, AI look about it,” Nathan looked
through the binoculars again. “Nothing is moving down there. Lets go
The two men took their time covering the half klick distance to the
power grid that surrounded the buildings.
“There’s still power running through this thing,” Mitch checked his
instruments. “I’m not sure I can shut it down from here. Any ideas?”
“Yeah,” West pointed twenty feet away. “Look at that.” By the section
of the grid where guards usually stood, were the bodies of two AI’s,
who appeared to have died in a knife fight. They were laying on the
ground locked together, each had a hand, with a death grip on a knife
buried deep in the other’s chest.
“Damn, I would sure like to know what went on here,” Mitch shook his
head in disbelief. “Lets pull’em apart. Their bodies will shield us as
we move through the grid.”
Each Marine grabbed an Elroy body and used it for safe passage through
the power field. After an extensive search of the compound, all they
came up with was more bodies. Some had died in fights, others, like the
Faliciti they had found the other day, had just stopped running.
“Nathan, look at this,” Mitch called him over to the main computer.
“There appears to be a program left running that’s augmenting the
magnetic field of this planet. It looks like these AI’s were trying to
shield their presence. The question is who were they shielding it
“It had to be from us,” Nathan reasoned. “Chigs and AI’s are allies.”
“Why would they bother?” Mitch argued. “We’re in the Chigs’ backyard.
And it’s not just radio signals that were shielded. We would have
picked up the energy signature of this compound, if it hadn’t been
masked. I think these guys were hiding from the Chigs.”
“Can you download all the information on that thing, without
interfering with, or disabling the shielding?” Nathan didn’t know if
Mitch was correct, but he wanted to take back all the information he
could to the Saratoga.
“Sure, but it’ll take me longer to do it that way,” Mitch began
working. “Why don’t you pull all the memory chips on the inhabitants of
this little Paradise? Between those and the download, we should have a
pretty clear picture of what happened here, once we run it through the
September 10, 2064 The Clara Barton 1030 hours
The physical therapist was taking McQueen through his exercises for the
forth time that morning. Each time, the woman demanded more of the
Colonel. Each time the Colonel thought he had given as much as he
could, then he would remember the dreams and the letter from Lars
Morgans. He would take a deep breath and find the energy to push
“Very good, Colonel,” the tiny dark haired woman complimented him. Her
soft Mexican accent making her words sound musical.
“You make an excellent Drill Sargent, Captain,” McQueen covered his
trach and his voice was a rough approximation of his own.
“That is what my children tell me,” Captain Eva Mata laughed.
“How’s my star patient doing?” Dr. Kelly came over to McQueen who was
doing a cool-down walk on the treadmill.”
“As you can see Dr. Mike,” Eva pointed to McQueen’s leg, and to the
read-out on her computer. “He uses it as if it were part of him, which
is as it should be.”
“Colonel, is the numbness bothering you much?” The old Doctor watched
McQueen’s movements as if they were the most important thing in the
world to him.
“It takes a little getting used to,” McQueen looked down as he kept
pace with the treadmill. “I know I’m moving and putting weight on my
right foot, but I can’t feel it yet. At first I was worried it would
interfere with my balance, but it doesn’t.”
“That’s good to hear. Any pain?” Kelly knew that there shouldn’t be
any, but often patients perceived pain because they knew they had
organic rods where a limb used to be.
“You mean other than what is caused by your Cpt. Mata?” McQueen glared
at the woman who he knew was driving him hard for his own good. “Very
little, just some minor muscle spasms.”
“Good, good, your progress is remarkable. You’ve gotten the best
possible results I could have hoped for,” Kelly smiled. “It’s amazing
how far we’ve come in seventy years.”
McQueen smiled, the old Doctor loved talking about his work, and the
Colonel found the more he learned about the procedure he had gone
through and all that was still ahead of him, the more secure he felt.
Information was the key to understanding, and understanding was the key
to independence, something the man on the treadmill needed badly right
“It’s hard to believe that the stem cell technique we used came from
work being done in the late 20th Century in attempts to regenerate
cardiac muscle after heart attacks.” Dr. Kelly was fascinated by the
crude efforts of those early doctors.
“We were able to do one bone marrow harvest from you and use the stem
cells from that to grow skin, alleviating the need to take grafts from
your body. We also used those original cells as a template to create
new ones so that we will be able to send you back to the Saratoga with
samples. Your doctor can give you the stem cell injections you need
for the further regeneration of your nerve endings.” The Doctor made
quick notes in McQueen’s chart as he talked. “If it had been necessary
to harvest bone marrow each time you needed more stem cells, you would
be heading for Earth, not your ship.”
“How long do you think it will take for the regeneration process to be
complete,” McQueen worried that the Marines would take a grim view of
him needing special medical treatment when on the front lines.
“I can only give you an average. Everyone is different when it comes
to things like this,” Kelly shrugged. “I’m betting on it taking about
six months until you have complete feeling back, but it will return a
bit at a time, as individual nerves regenerate. Then, with the
exception of the small graft scar over the anastomosis, you won’t be
able to tell one leg from the other.”
“What kind of duty restrictions will I be on?”
“You still can’t fly, but that’s because of the MEF,” Kelly shook his
head. He knew what drove most pilots and he doubted McQueen was any
different. “You’ll need to be on ‘ship’ duty for the next few months
until you have complete feeling in your new foot and the neoskin
covering it. We did some creative nerve grafting, taking afferent
nerves, those that take a message to the brain, from the intact part of
your leg. We used those to replace some of the efferent ones, those
that receive massages from the brain, that were lost in the explosion.
It was imperative that you have normal function of the prosthesis, from
the beginning. We didn't want any of the doner-transplanted muscles to
atrophy. The feeling side of the coin can be worked on.”
“What’s your definition of ‘ship’ duty?” He didn’t think he was going
to like this.
“You need to stay out of hand to hand combat situations,” Kelly needed
to stress the seriousness of the situation to his patient. “Until that
foot and lower leg is completely healed, you have to be careful. The
last thing you want is necrosis of the neoskin or muscle tissue, either
your’s or the banked muscle we used. Since you lack feeling in that
area, it would be very easy to do damage.
“The skeletal parts of your prosthesis were attached very much like hip
or knee replacements were seventy-five years ago, but instead of using
titanium rods, we used ones made of specially treated banked bone
tissue. Over time the ‘organic’ rods will fuse with what was left of
your tibia and fibula. Becoming living bone, stronger than your own
would have been. The foot part is made up of organic rods and titanium
joints, covered with banked muscle and your regenerated skin.”
The Doctor stepped closer to McQueen to emphasize his point, “until you
get feeling back to that area completely, you can damage it. Breakdown
in tissue can cause infection and even gangrene. If that were to happen
you could end up with an above the knee amputation, instead of the below
the knee one you have now. Believe me, the prosthesis that we have for
those aren’t like the one you have! If things had gone a little
differently you could have ended up with a computerized leg, like we
talked about before surgery.”
“I get your point,” McQueen shuddered when he thought what his life
might have been like if he hadn’t been so lucky. Before surgery he had
been willing to live with anything that would get him back to the
Saratoga, including an AI type leg, now he knew that it would have been
much harder for him to accept.
“I don’t know what’s going on out there on the Saratoga, and I’m sure I
never will. You realize that I’m only releasing you now because I’m
getting pressure from Frank Savage to do so. As it is, Frank can
pressure all he likes, but I’m keeping you for one more day.” The
Doctor wanted to be sure McQueen was clear on his restrictions. “The
General filled me in on your duties on the Saratoga. I’ve certified you
for active duty aboard a space carrier, only. You are not, under any
circumstances, to have any ground duty until all feeling returns. And
I’m sure you’re old enough that I don’t have to tell you, ‘none of that
macho crap’ so many soldiers like to pull in the gym!” The Doctor
raised an eyebrow at the Colonel, putting him on warning.
“Dr. Kelly,” McQueen cleared his throat. “I appreciate all that you’ve
done for me. Thank you very much.”
“You’re very welcome. We were lucky the muscle implants responded so
well, otherwise I’d have had to do my magic with computerized tissue,”
Kelly smiled at the Marine. “I’ve written out full instructions for Dr.
Kirkwood. I see from some of her earlier medical notes that she’s
figured out how to keep you in line, so you should have a complete
McQueen nailed him with a cool glance, wondering what Jen had written.
“When Eva is done putting you through your paces, get some lunch. You
have an appointment with Dr. Turek at 1400 hours,” the older man
smiled. “I believe he’s planning on taking out your trach tube.”
Planet 2063 Yankee, September 10, - 1400 hours
“Did you have a good nap?” Jenny looked up from notes she was quickly
scribbling, to meet Vanessa Damphousse’s dark eyes.
“I keep dreaming about Paul,” ‘Phousse sighed.
“I hope they’re good dreams,” Jenny moved closer and did a quick neuro
“I guess they are,” Vanessa chewed her lip wanting to ask Jen a
question. “How long does it take?”
“I’m sorry, Jenny I know you don’t like to talk about...well...what
happened to you, but how long does it take for the pain to go away?”
Tears formed in the Marine’s eyes. “This is nothing like when Sam broke
off our engagement in the Spring.”
“I didn’t realize you felt that way about Paul.” Jenny sat back on her
heels, absorbing the new information. “Are you sure you aren’t feeling
guilt mixed with the loss of a good friend?”
“I’m sure,” ‘Phousse sighed. “We.....discovered that we had feelings
for each other when we were on leave last spring. I never let him put
his feelings into words. I was afraid talking about it would tempt
“Did you love him, Vanessa?”
“I cared more about Paul than anyone else I’ve ever met,” she sniffed,
trying not to cry. “What I felt for him made my feelings for Sam seem
“I never realized,” Jenny whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” ‘Phousse smiled. “People die, feelings don’t. I
just wish I didn’t miss him so badly, that’s all.”
“I’d like to say that what you’re feeling would be over in three hours
or three weeks, or even three years, but I can’t,” Jenny looked a bit
lost. “It takes time, and the amount of time is different for
everyone. There are definite steps that a person goes through in the
grieving process, unfortunately they’re necessary to heal.”
“How long did it take you to go through them?” Damphousse needed
“Vanessa,” Jenny caught her breath. “I can’t tell you what you want
know, really I can’t.”
“Jenny, ‘Phousse,” Cooper Hawkes had stood, hidden, listening to the
women talking. He had appointed himself Jenny’s guardian, if that meant
protecting her from Damphousse’s questions, he would do just that.
“It’s beautiful out, why don’t we take ‘Phousse outside?”
“Sure,” Jenny was glad for the interruption. “Coop, give me a hand and
we’ll get her on her feet. Lets take it easy, one step at a time. I
know you’re still a bit dizzy, but getting some fresh air will make you
feel much better.”
It was the height of false night, as the Marines called it, that odd
time of day when the northern hemisphere of the planet had rocked away
from the sun. It was like sitting on the beach at twilight, but instead
of getting darker, it got lighter, then in a few hours true night would
“I wonder if this is what the night sky looks like during the summer at
the North Pole, back on Earth?” Shane asked as she moved aside to make
room for Vanessa.
“That’s something else I’ll have to put on my list of places to see,”
Jenny smiled. “The land of the Midnight Sun, and of course the northern
lights, but that would be winter time.”
“You planning a long trip?” Coop looked over at her, as they helped
‘Phousse sit down.
“Not anytime soon,” she answered cryptically. “There you go Vanessa,
fresh air, sun not too bright, and a beach only a few feet away. What a
“How soon did you say Nathan and Mitch would be back?” Damphousse’s’
voice cracked, still thinking about Paul. Jenny had told her about his
death and McQueen’s accident the day before. Somehow hearing Paul’s
voice in her head made it easy for her to believe that he had died, but
the loss of the Colonel seemed unreal.
“They should be back anytime now,” Coop was beginning to worry. His
eyes met Shane’s, both knew that the two men should have been back
yesterday at the latest. If all went well with the Saratoga, Ross was
due anytime. Too much was at stake to risk it looking for dead AI’s.
“It’s so beautiful here, its hard to remember there’s a war going on,”
Vanessa murmured. It was warm and humid, but there was a wind blowing
that kept it from being too uncomfortable. They had rain everyday, but
the cave stayed dry. Hawkes and Vansen were able to find game to keep
“I bet we would make a pretty strange looking group,” Shane smiled.
“Sitting here with M-590’s, wearing fatigue pants, t-shirts and no
shoes. All we need is some Mexican beer.”
“You know what this reminds me of?” Jenny looked at them. “I’ve seen
pictures from the 1960’s of hospital bases in Viet Nam. Some of them
looked a lot like this. Soldiers, sitting on the beach, getting a tan,
with their weapon by their side.”
A rumble in the sky was heard from behind them. “Into the cave, Jenny,
take ‘Phousse with you,” Shane grabbed her weapon as Coop grabbed his.
“Do as I say, both of you!”
Ten minutes later, the Marines returned with Nathan and Mitch following
behind. The ISSCV was carefully hidden. All they could do now was wait
until they heard from Ross.
The Clara Barton September 10 2064, 1900 hours
“McQueen?” General Savage knocked impatiently on the door to the
Colonel’s room, then walked in. He found the man sitting at a table
making marks on a blueprint and scribbling notations in the margins.
“What’s wrong, General?” McQueen knew from the look on the older man’s
face and his tone of voice that something had happened.
“I’ve just heard from Maj. Gomez,” he paced the small space of the
room. “There has been an attempt on Pats’ life. Whoever it was tried
to make it look like a break-in. Thank goodness I left her well
“Is she all right?” McQueen felt adrenaline pump through him, all
thoughts of wind speeds and water displacement, quickly shoved aside.
“Yes, thank God,” the General sank into a chair. “But I’m heading back
to Earth as soon as I can get a transport. I didn’t tell you this
before, but there’ve been killings of in-vitros from Pats’ batch.
Someone else is doing a search like ours, but instead of trying to find
them for information, they’re killing them.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell me.....Sir?”
“I wanted you to focus on getting better,” Savage’s composure was
returning, but he was still worried about his wife. “You’re needed on
the Saratoga. Too much is happening. Ross needs someone there he knows
he can trust.”
“Who’s behind all of this?” McQueen was confused. Something that had
appeared to start out as simple prejudice, was getting more and more
complicated. “If you knew there was a danger to Patsy, why did you stay
here so long?”
The General looked McQueen up and down. He could tell the Colonel was
doing much better. The trach tube had been removed that afternoon and
from all the reports Savage had gotten from the doctors, it seemed that
McQueen would be ready very soon to return to duty.
“I stayed because there are a few pieces of information that you
haven’t been given,” the General watched McQueen’s face close down. “It
wasn’t that I didn’t trust you. What I am going to tell you, is known
by only a few people. It’s what I want you to take back to Ross. If
you hadn’t been well enough to travel soon, I’d have chanced blowing my
cover to get the information to the Saratoga. It is imperative that
this information gets to Ross and no one else.”
“I understand, Sir,” for the first time since the peace talks, McQueen
felt like a Marine again.
“There is only one person who has the power do most of what has been
done. That person is Secretary General Diane Hayden.” Savage watched
the Colonel absorb the information. “We...I, believe that she is acting
in conjunction with Carleton Stryker. Somehow they are behind all of
“What exactly do you mean by ‘all of this’?” McQueen had worked with
Hayden years ago in the In-vitro Rights Movement, but didn’t know her
well enough to form an opinion on her character. It wasn’t until she
was on the Saratoga after Chartwell had been assassinated, that he began
to suspect that she wasn’t all that she appeared to be.
“She and Stryker had dealings with Aerotech in the early years.
Hayden’s were done openly, but Stryker’s weren’t. Sorry, I can’t reveal
my source on that. We believe that they knew about the genetic
manipulation of in-vitros,” Savage cleared his throat. He had been less
than honest with McQueen about how far Longley’s study had gotten.
“So Jen was right?” McQueen’s eyes turned icy. “Someone was breeding
in-vitros who could be drug controlled.”
“Yes, I’m sorry, but we don’t have any proof of who it was in
Aerotech,” Savage shook his head. “With E. Allan Wayne dead, I’m not
sure there’s anyway to get it. Stryker has connections with the AIU,
Craig Rabwin in particular.....”
“Shit!” McQueen leaped to his feet as the implications sunk in. “Sorry
Sir,” the Colonel pulled his temper back under control. Only his eyes
showed his anger over the loss of his people and the damage to himself
done by that explosion.
“Shit is right,” Savage knew he was correct about McQueen as he watched
the younger man control himself. The Colonel was back in the war, where
he was needed. It didn’t matter if Mike Kelly was keeping him for
another day. The man had healed. “We have no way of knowing at this
time what was behind the bombing attempt. But I do believe we know
“To destroy a chance for peace to kill one woman?” It frightened
McQueen to think of Jen as the focus of so much hate.
“We don’t know that. Some of the heat should be off of Jenny, as soon
as we go public with the information in Longley’s study. That should
also help protect any older in-vitros.
“I believe there was much more at stake when that bomb was placed. If
the Saratoga had been destroyed as planned, it would have taken out a
good portion of the high ranking military staff this side of Saturn.
Wayne, Dr. Kirkwood and the Chig Envoy, would have been only a few of
those killed. As it is, it did more than enough damage,” Savage had
McQueen’s full attention. “We have no way of knowing how deep, or how
far back the hate behind all this goes. And until we do, no one who was
on that ship is really safe, and very few trustworthy.”
“What can I tell Jen about Patsy?”
“I’m going to leave that up to you, if it were possible, I would say
nothing,” the General smiled. “But if we lie to her now and she finds
out, God, help us. She already knows that we weren’t honest with her
regarding possible danger to others on the Saratoga. Assure her that I
would give my life to protect Pats, but I think you understand that
don’t you?” The General looked the Colonel in the eyes, both saw the
same look of determination and need.
The Clara Barton, September 11, 2064 - 2330 hours
John Stark went to check on the Colonel one last time, before turning
in for the night. He found his patient packing the few belongings he
had managed to collect while on the hospital ship.
“I figured I’d find you still up,” Stark looked McQueen over carefully,
the Colonel had been strangely quiet since General Savage left the day
before. “You’ll be heading back to the Saratoga tomorrow.”
“Yes,” he turned to face the Corpsman. “Stark?” McQueen dug deep in
himself. He needed to know something and only the Sargent could answer
it for him. “All the time you were on Kordis? Did Jen.....Dr.
Kirkwood, tell you how she felt about The Major?”
“No Sir,” Stark felt a surge of relief as he watched the confusion on
the Colonel’s face.
“Then what made you say what you did, the other day?”
“I could tell by the look on her face whenever she talked about you,
how she felt,” the Corpsman saw his words hit the mark as the older man
“How long have you known?” McQueen met the deep blue eyes of the
“That you were the Major? I’ve wondered since I saw you with the
bracelet,” Stark shrugged. “But didn’t know for sure until just now.”
“You’re wrong, Stark, about what she feels. We’re just friends.”
“Are you sure about that, Colonel?” The Corpsman shook his head at how
stubborn the older man could be.
“I’ve known her for four years,” McQueen was getting frustrated, he
wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince, himself or Stark. “I would
know how she feels about me.”
“Would you, Colonel?” Stark pushed. “I don’t think she understood, so
why should you? But no one who heard her tell those stories, while
trapped in that dark cold cave, could miss what she was feeling. What I
don’t understand is why she thought you were dead.”
“When the Yorktown was lost, it was reported that all the Angry Angels
died.” McQueen gave him the short version, he was tired and didn’t want
to talk about this anymore, but couldn’t stop himself. “Jen was
notified before the clerical error was corrected.”
“Then, I guess the question is, how do you feel about her?” The
Corpsman smiled and looked as innocent as a six year old caught with his
hand in the cookie jar.
“That, Sargent is none of your business,” McQueen glared at the young
“You’re probably right, Sir,” Stark turned to leave. As he reached the
door, he looked over his shoulder at the troubled older man. “Colonel,
if it was me, that’s something I’d figure out!” He walked out and left
McQueen glaring at the hatch.
September 12, 2064, The Saratoga - 1300 hours
The familiar clank and bang of the Launch Bay doors sent a rush of
excitement through McQueen. He was home. As soon as the words drifted
through his mind, he began to reject them. Was the Saratoga really his
home? Part of him resented all the doubts that were surfacing due to the
dreams he had been having. He was a rational man, who didn’t listen to
dreams. Why was he doing so now?
He had spent the trip from the Clara Barton trying to figure out what
he would say to Jen when he saw her, and he still didn’t have an
answer. If he believed what Stark said, then she really did care about
him. That thought led him down roads he would rather not travel.
Closing his eyes, he could see Jen beaten and burned from the mugging in
Houston. Rationally, he knew he couldn’t have prevented it. Jen had
said as much the night he had kissed her, but on a deeper level there
Ask yourself then answer, why wouldn’t you let Jenny go to Kazbek?
Shane Vansen whispered in his head.
To keep her safe, McQueen’s inner voice answered.
But WHY? Shane nagged him, in his thoughts.
Shanking his head and standing as the ISSCV door was opened, the
Colonel clamped down on the questions. His mind racing to the present,
I don’t have time for this now!
McQueen was greeted by the brightness in the Launch Bay. Even as his
eyes grew accustom to the change in lighting he searched for the face of
the woman who was causing him so much unrest.
“Ty,” Commodore Ross met him as he disembarked. “I never thought I’d
see you on this ship again! You look good as new.” Ross gripped his
“Jen said I’d be back,” he smiled and buried the disappointment that it
was Ross standing across from him instead of Jen. “I should have
learned by now to trust what she says. Any word on the Wildcards?”
“We’re heading toward 2063 Yankee now, to pick up the SAR team,” this
was what Ross had been dreading ever since he had heard McQueen would be
back before they made the return trip. “They’ve been out of radio
contact ever since the drop. Come to my office, we need to talk.”
Commodore Ross’ Office
“She did what!” McQueen couldn’t believe what Ross was telling him.
“Glen how could you let her go. I thought the whole idea of her being
on the Saratoga was to keep her safe.”
“Easy, Colonel,” the Commodore was going to pull rank if need be.
“When it became obvious someone was trying to take out the Saratoga, I
figured she would be as safe, if not safer, with the 58th.” Ross
thought the excuse sounded lame, he hoped McQueen would buy it.
“This wasn’t what I meant by ‘keeping her safe’, when I wrote you,”
McQueen felt empty inside as he remembered what Butts’ had said to him
in his dream. Was he going to have to learn to live without them all?
Maybe he would find himself a black hole and see just what Butts had
found on the other side of Cerberus. “Jen DID give you my letter?”
“Yes, she gave it to me,” Ross smiled as he remembered what he had
read. “Ty, you weren’t here. You didn’t see how bad it was for them,
Jenny especially. I’m not sure they wouldn’t have gone AWOL to find
Vansen and Damphousse, if I hadn’t let them go.”
“I thought I taught them better than that,” McQueen glared.
“Maybe, West and Hawkes,” Glen shook his head. “But Jenny was the
driving force behind everything that happened in those few hours. I’m
still not sure how I let her talk me into it,” Ross answered honestly,
in hopes his friend would understand. “She was like you were at
Christmas time, when the 58th was missing, only worse.”
“Was it very bad for her?” McQueen whispered, his back to his friend.
“Bad?” Ross looked at the Colonel, not sure how much he could say
without breaking Jenny’s confidence. “Try hell!” Watching the other man
clench his fists and take a deep breath, the Commodore plunged on, “how
long have you been in love with her?”
“Love?” He swung around, shaking his head. “No Glen, I care about
her. I care about her a great deal, but love? No!” It shook McQueen to
his foundation to think the ‘L’ word in connection with any one person.
That word was so final, so irrevocable. “We’re just friends.”
“Friends my ass,” Ross muttered. Then nailed McQueen with a glare,
“there’s an old saying, ‘love is friendship set on fire’. Think about
“I don’t have time to think about it now!” The Colonel argued, his
expression turning to ice as he tried to bury any thoughts of Jen for
the moment. It was too easy to picture her as she had been in his dream
with Paul. Her slim body shaken with dry heaves as she huddled against
the Sickbay wall, refusing to let anyone help her, keeping Chico and
Joan at bay until she regained a bit of control. He refused to believe
that he had seen any of the truth. He couldn’t have hurt her like that!
“You don’t have time not to,” Ross advised. Then backed off, “all
right, you’re off the hook for the moment,” he shook his head, deciding
it might be better not to force the issue, in case Jenny didn’t make it
back alive. “Now down to business. I know you have messages for me
from Savage, then you need to report to Sickbay for them to certify you
for duty. I’m going to need you in the next few hours while we sneak in
to pull those wondering kids of yours off of 2063 Yankee.”
2063 Yankee, September 12 2064, 2200 hours
“Ross is four days overdue,” Shane hated to be the one to bring up what
was on everyone’s mind. “We need to start thinking of some contingency
“The message we received was garbled,” Mitch Connelly pointed out. “We
don’t know how badly the Saratoga was damaged. It may have taken longer
for repairs than originally planned.”
“I think we need to face the possibility that She’s too badly damaged
to come back for us,” Jenny Kirkwood spoke up for the first time that
night. “Don’t look so surprised! I was there too, you know? Granted,
on the Saratoga, not Demios. That’s how we filled those long silent
hours when sleep wouldn’t come; preparing to find you all died, but
praying that it wouldn’t happen. This isn’t any different!”
“Jenny’s right,” Coop patted her shoulder. “We need to prepare for the
worst, but hope we don’t need to use it.”
“Let’s give it one move day,” Shane nodded. “There’s nothing we can do
about it tonight and we’re pretty well hidden.”
“I’m sorry Shane I didn’t mean to pop off like that,” Jenny knelt near
the dark haired Marine and spoke quietly.
“You only spoke what’s been on all our minds,” Shane smiled. “How’s
“Better, but I’m glad she slept through my little out-burst,” Jenny
reached for her utility vest and side arm. “I’m going to get some fresh
air before I turn in.”
Shane just shook her head at the change in Jenny. Gone was the
laughing woman whose company they had all enjoyed for the last year. In
her place was a determined grim woman, whose only objective was to keep
them all alive.
Jen sat in her usual place against the cliff, watching the waves.
Tonight it didn’t give her peace.
“I had almost given up hope that you’d come tonight, Carbonite,” the
scratchy voice of an AI caught her off guard. “Drop the gun!”
“What do you want?” Jen whispered, adrenalin pumping through her, as
she turned and faced the barrel of an M-590.
“All of you dead!” He grinned at her. “Don’t even think of calling out
to the others. Now, do as I said, drop the gun. Then you’re going to
take me to the cave.”
“Go to hell!”
“Little Carbonite, I know all about hell. This virus you people
implanted has made me feel things I never imagined,” he slung his gun
over his shoulder as he grabbed her by the neck. Pulling her close
he whispered in her ear, “I’ve learned about hate, revenge and the joy
“We didn’t implant any virus,” Jen gasped, as she tried to peel his
hand off her throat.
“One Carbonite is much like another,” he laughed. “Now you can pay for
what the others have done. And I’ll teach you all I’ve learned about
hell, as you watch me kill your friends, if you don’t do as I tell
you.” He ran his finger up and down her arm, causing her to shiver.
“I’m a Lance-OH model, we were created for pleasure. I never got any
pleasure from the touch of Carbonite skin, but watching you quiver in
fear is showing me all that I’ve missed,” he laughed quietly.
“You’re going to kill us anyway, why should I cooperate?” Jenny
dragged what little air she could into her lungs as her left hand pulled
on his fingers at her throat. The movement brought Ty’s k-bar close
under her right hand where she was holding tight to her left wrist.
“I can make you beg me, to let you call to them,” he smiled down at
her. “Remember, there’s dying, then there’s dying,” the AI laughed.
“Your choice Little Carbonite, do they die quickly or slowly? You, I’ll
save ‘till last. I may die of this virus like the rest, but I’ll get to
enjoy your fear and anguish as they suffer.” The thoughts of the
pleasure he would gain from watching the humans die slowly at his hand
hypnotized the Lance.
“Stay in the cave!” Jenny rasped out. Hearing a familiar deep voice in
her head whisper, you can do it, Jen, I’ll help you, she pulled the
k-bar from her utility vest and thrust it backhand into the AI’s chest.
The Lance had been distracted and she was taking full advantage of it,
praying all the while that she would live long enough to kill it.
The Lance couldn’t get to his gun, pulling her close had been a
tactical error. He was in reach of her knife. He had miscalculated
badly, she was fighting him. The sensation of circuits being cut as
the large knife sliced through him a second time, made him move even
slower. He had forgotten how the virus shorted out his reflexes and
made clear thinking hard. He raised his fist and swung at her, but as
he knocked her off her feet, his motherboard exploded when he was hit by
the projectile from an M-590.
“Jenny!” Coop called, as he lowered his weapon and ran to her side.
The shaking woman, had slid to her knees, as she gripped the k-bar in
both hands, ready to continue the fight. “What the hell happened?”
“He was here,” Jenny hugged McQueen’s knife close to her, not wanting
to let go of it, still needing to feel the power of the man it belonged
to. “He was waiting for me. He was going to kill all of you.” She
looked up, surrounded by Wildcards.
“Be careful with the k-bar,” Shane reached for the knife Jenny gripped
close to her. “Please, you’re going to cut yourself if you’re not
“No,” Jen whispered as she turned her body away, still holding on to
the knife tightly.
Coop knelt and touched her hands as they held fast to the k-bar, “let
me help you,” he spoke quietly, then carefully unwrapped Jenny’s fingers
from the knife. As he turned it over to return it to the Doctor’s
scabbard the moonlight caught on McQueen’s initial’s on the back. “Here
you go Jenny,” he smiled. “It’s back where it belongs. Lets get you
into the cave, where you belong.”
“Were you out of your mind?” Shane lectured the Doctor once they were
safe inside again. “That thing was a good foot taller than you. What
were you thinking?”
“I was thinking that he was going to kill you as you came running out
of here to help me,” Jenny shouted, still shaken from hearing McQueen’s
voice echoing in her head moments ago. “And if I led him back to the
cave like he wanted, he would have killed you before you knew he was
behind me. I’ve come too far to have you die now! Any of you! What
did you think this mission was all about anyway?” She wiped frantically
at tears that rolled down her face as reaction set in.
“Any sign that he had the virus?” Connelly interrupted the arguing.
“He said he did, and that we had implanted it,” Jenny thought back over
what the AI had told her. “He had been watching us for a while, because
he was expecting me to go out there.”
“I’m going to see if there is anything left of his memory chip,” Mitch
picked up his weapon and micro tools.
“Wait,” Shane called out. “I’m going to watch your back. If one of
those things is out there, we can’t be sure there aren’t more,” she
needed to cool down. The Marine knew she had lost her temper with
Jenny, but the thought of the smaller woman taking on the huge AI made
her blood boil. “Nathan, you guard the entrance, the password is
“Jenny, you’d die for us, wouldn’t you?” Damphousse’s question caught
the older woman off guard. “That’s why you came.”
“I guess I’ve been hanging around you Marines too long,” Jen shrugged,
trying to make light of Vanessa’s observation.
“No, it’s more than that,” ‘Phousse watched the older woman fidget.
“It’s something you need to do, but I don’t understand why?”
“Please, Vanessa, just leave it alone,” Jenny didn’t have the strength
to keep anything hidden tonight. “It’s been a long day, we all need to
get some sleep......” The radio crackled to life, “’Phousse, can you
read that signal?”
“Morse code,” she sounded more alive than she had since she and Shane
had ejected days ago. “Yes I’ve got it. ‘5-8, 5-8, Saratoga in
range’,” she wrote quickly as the message continued. “This doesn’t make
any sense. ‘The piper has been paid, repeat, the piper has been paid.’
Then the coordinates.”
“That’s Ross,” Jenny cried out recognizing what she had said to him
days ago. “It makes sense to me,” she smiled as she remembered what she
Jenny’s hands shook as she prayed them back to the Saratoga, a trip
that seemed to take forever. West and Vansen made the ISSCV dance in an
attempt to evaded Chig patrols. Three times Hawkes and Connelly fought
off attacks, before they were met by a Hammerhead escort that Ross had
sent out. The guns echoed through the small ship as Jenny stayed with
Damphousse, who was still having problems with dizziness and bouts of
nausea. The mad dash for the ISSCV, followed by the rough flight made
the Lieutenant’s symptoms worse. When they had received Ross’ message
they knew that they had to leave quickly. 2063 Yankee was located too
close to the Chig home world for the Saratoga to remain hidden long.
The Saratoga Launch Bay, September 13, 2064- 0910 hours
“WOO-YAH,” Hawkes called out as the small craft was secured. The echo
of the Launch Bay doors was still loud in their ears, when the green
light went on indicating pressure had been restored to the bay. Mitch
was opening the ISSCV door a second later.
“Make a hole,” Corpsman Win Trosper’s voice could be heard, as he and
another Corpsman brought a stretcher to ‘Phousse’s bunk. “Hey, Lady-Doc
it’s good to have you back,” he grinned and winked at Jenny.
“It’s good to be back, Win,” she sighed as she helped them transfer
Vanessa to the stretcher. “I’ll be down to Sickbay as soon as I gather
my things. Give this to whoever is in charge today,” she handed over
the chart she had been keeping on her patient.
Standing and stretching she pulled her pack over one shoulder and the
M-590 she had been carrying over the other. Stepping out of the ISSCV
it took her eyes a moment to adjust to the bright lights of the Launch
Bay, but there was no mistaking the happy sounds of a small crowd of
people, ten feet away from her. Looking up she shook her head in
disbelief. ”Ty?” she thought as she froze in her tracks, unable to take
her eyes off the scene in front of her.
The stretcher carrying Damphousse was stopped by McQueen’s side and he
was holding tightly to one of her hands. Shane had just hugged him
around the middle and he was putting a tentative arm around her
shoulders. Coop and Nathan, not to be outdone, put there arms around
Shane and began slapping their commander on the back. Jenny laughed at
the bemused expression on McQueen’s face. He definitely wasn’t used to
male bonding rituals!
At the sound of her laughter, she saw him look up. Suddenly, her world
was reduced to one man. The crowd around them seemed to melt away as
she watched him disengaged himself from the group of excited young
people, and walk with his customary cat like grace to stand in front of
her. She felt his eyes on her as they swept over her, taking in her
hat, then the Angel patch on her shirt.
Without a word McQueen did the only thing he could do. He slowly
raised his right hand, as he smiled at the Angel in front of him.
Jenny’s hand came up in a mirror of his. As they touched and their
fingers meshed, he whispered, “not even death can defeat an Angry
“I can’t believe you’re back so soon,” her eyes locked with his. Both
had forgotten they were still gripping hands. “You look....wonderful!”
“I feel wonderful......now,” inside of him a little voice was yelling,
*”be careful, McQueen, don’t show too much. For once in his life he
didn’t listen to that voice, he just....acted. “Though, all of you gave
me quite a scare,” he whispered as he stepped closer.
“Gloria Collins didn’t think that word was in your vocabulary,” Jen
giggled as she remembered a dream from weeks ago.
“Hump.....” McQueen was about to say more, when the Saratoga rocked
from gun fire and the room came back around them. Both people dropped
their hands and stepped back, aware they had been holding tightly to one
another in the middle of a crowd. “I need to get back to the bridge.
I’ll see you later?”
“Sure,” Jenny smiled. “I need to get to Sickbay and look after
Sickbay 1030 hours
Jenny breathed a sigh of relief, only Vanessa Damphousse was remaining
in Sickbay, and that would be for only a short time. Everyone else had
passed their physical, even Shane. She knew she needed to clean up, but
she was anxious to get a look at the specs on McQueen’s prosthesis.
Chico Voss found Jenny at the computer in their office, a few minutes
later. “Dr. Kirkwood,” he smiled. “I’m glad to see you waited for me,
it’s your turn now, exam room three is empty.”
“Pardon?” Jen looked up from the material she was reading.
“I said it’s your turn,” he reached around her and turned off the
computer. “You need to be checked out by a doctor.”
“I do not! I’m fine.”
“That’s an order, Doctor,” Chico held his ground.
“You can’t order me around, I out rank you,” Jen fought back.
“Maybe, but I’m your doctor of record,” he glared at her. “Room
three, Joan Brill is waiting for you. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
An hour later Jenny punched the code to her quarters. She wasn’t sure
when the sounds of fighting had stopped, but it had been sometime while
she was being bawled out by Chico. She wanted to be angry with him, but
it was hard when she knew he was right. She had let herself get badly
run down. She needed sleep and to gain a bit of weight. The AI hadn’t
broken any bones when she fought with him, but she had some colorful
bruises to show for her efforts.
After a quick shower, she crawled into bed, and reached for the sweat
shirt she kept hidden. She pulled it close and buried her face in it as
she wondered how much she had given herself away in the Launch Bay.
Oh well, it’s too late now, she thought as she fell asleep, holding
on to McQueen’s shirt.
Ross’ Office 1300 hours
“What now, Sir?” McQueen looked at his friend and commanding officer.
“The Saratoga is running under radio silence, maybe that’ll help us
keep them off our backs,” Ross looked carefully at the map of the area
around 2063 Yankee. “We’re still in their playground. The last report
I had was that sector 27 is the cut off line for no man’s land. That
should take us another day.”
The men’s strategy session was interrupted by someone knocking on the
hatch. “Come,” Ross called out and was surprised to find Vansen,
Hawkes, West and Connelly. “It’s good to see you made it back,” the
Commodore smiled at the young Marines.
“It’s good to be back,” Shane smiled. “We found something very
interesting on 2063Y and thought you should see it.”
The Marines told them about the hidden AI village, the drained power
cells and the odd encounter Dr. Kirkwood had with the Lance OH model
just before they had been picked up. Connelly added any information he
had observed about the virus.
“Here are the memory chips from all the dead AI’s we found,” Mitch
opened his pack, showing the men what they had. “We’ve also brought
back a downloaded copy of all the information on the main computer at
the compound and a few of the ‘drained’ power cells.”
“Sir, this isn’t the first time we’ve run into this,” McQueen was
remembering the planet Minerva and what had happened with Paul. “But it
was on a much smaller scale.”
“Can we run those chips through our computers without the virus getting
into our system?” Ross looked at Connelly, since he seemed to know the
most about the technology behind what had been found.
“I don’t know, Commodore,” Mitch frowned. “I’d like to try. We can
rig an independent system, so the ship isn’t in danger. Any chance Cpt.
Fisher could help me out with this? She’s a whiz with computers.”
“Lt. Connelly, tell her this has a priority from me, she’ll help you,”
Ross smiled at the young man. “Is there anything else you can tell me
about the virus?”
“You’ve got all the information I’ve got on it at the moment,” Connelly
shrugged. “You may want to talk to Dr. Kirkwood, she was the only one
of us to have any direct contact with an infected AI that was still
“Keep all of this on a need to know basis,” the Commodore looked
stern. “Connelly, you and Fisher set up a lab and between the two of
you send me the names of three or four people to help you. I need to
okay your team before they start working with you. Good work people,
After the young Marines left, Ross looked over at McQueen, “what’s your
take on all of this, Ty?”
“AI’s hiding from the Chigs, it doesn’t make much sense,” McQueen shook
his head. “And this thing about the virus, I don’t know what to think.
When we ran into those two AI’s on Minerva it appeared as if it was an
isolated incident, now I’m not so sure.”
“If we were careful, we could make it to Minerva in about two days,”
Ross muttered. “Can you give me a good reason why we should go there?”
“Yes Sir, I can,” McQueen smiled as he remembered an eccentric British
Officer who was hidden there. “Major Cyril McKendrick.”
“You think he’s still alive? That area has seen heavy fighting,” Ross
pulled up a copy of the confidential report McQueen had submitted to him
about the British Major.
“If anyone could survive that, he could,” McQueen remembered the
determination in the older man’s eyes as he argued to be left behind.
“Hell, how many times can they Court Martial me?” The Commodore rolled
his eyes. “As far as Command knows the Saratoga is still hiding, doing
repairs, if we pull this off, maybe no one will look too closely at
where we’ve been for the last week or so.”
Next : Chapter Six - Part Two
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