All characters and plot devices that are taken from Space: Above & Beyond are the property of it's writers, producers and the owners of the series. They are used without permission. No copyright infringement intended.

Rating R

The Bridge To Forever


Phyllis Christie

   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 patch again!”

“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 too often.

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 area.

“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 compound.

“This place has that utilitarian, AI look about it,” Nathan looked through the binoculars again. “Nothing is moving down there. Lets go in closer.”

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 from?”

“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 ship’s computers.”

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 harder.

“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 now.

“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 recovery.”

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 check.

“I guess they are,” Vanessa chewed her lip wanting to ask Jen a question. “How long does it take?”

“Pardon me?”

“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 fate.”

“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 childish.”

“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 answers.

“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 come.

“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 vacation spot!”

“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 them fed.

“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 protected!”

“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 this.”

“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 who.”

“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 froze.

“How long have you known?” McQueen met the deep blue eyes of the Corpsman.

“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 man.

“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 were doubts.

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 friend’s hand.

“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 it.”

“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 plans.”

“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 ‘Phousse doing?”

“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 of killing.”

“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 careful.”

“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 sugardirt.”

“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 told Ross.

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 Angel.”

“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,” 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 ‘Phousse.”

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 functioning.”

“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, dismissed.”

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

Previous : Chapter Five - Nightmares And Dreams

Back : Space: AAB General Fiction