Disclaimer: The names of all 'Space: Above and Beyond' characters contained herein are the property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Productions and the Fox Broadcasting Network. These names have been used without their permission. All else is my own creation.
In Memory Of Sam
A knock on his door brought Lt. Col. McQueen out of his reading about the new Hammerhead design developments. “Who's at my hatch?”
"Capt. Vansen, sir. You missed mail call. Something arrived for you."
"Come in, captain."
Inside his neat quarters, the auburn haired woman gave a quick glance around, noting the books along the wall. The tall, silver blond form of her commanding officer sat at the second of two desks. He stood up, holding out his hand.
"Here you go, sir." She handed over the bulky letter envelope, noticing the return address said '127th Squadron, Loxley.' "I hope it's something good, sir."
He nodded curtly and she quickly made her retreat into the corridor. Curiosity made her pause outside his door.
"Dammit! Why the hell did they let him-" The sound of something hitting the wall with a quiet thud and a tickle reached her ears. Biting her lip, Shane Vansen left, wondering what had sparked the outburst from her normally cool superior. Pain and anger had warred in his voice.
That night, Vansen watched as McQueen sat at the bar, his usual scotch untouched. The seats to either side of him were empty, people catching the anger radiating off him and not wishing to get caught in the back lash.
"What's with the colonel?" West gave the bar another look and turned away. "Wish he'd leave. He's dampening the mood."
"I know. No one wants to attract his notice." To West's left, Wang drank some of his beer. "What happened? He seemed in a good mood earlier today."
"He got some bad news in the mail." Vansen said softly. "I took it to his quarters."
"Damn. I wonder what it was. Another so-called documentary?" Hawkes stared at his superior, toying with his glass.
"I don't know." Vansen sighed, her glass empty. "Stay here, guys. I'll beard the lion in its den." Getting to her feet, she took her glass to the bar, deliberately sitting to McQueen's left. "Another beer, please." She slid her debit card across the bar.
A glance at McQueen showed he wasn't even aware of her. "Sir."
He blinked and turned his head to face her as the bartender set her beer down. "Yes?"
"What's wrong, sir?"
She watched as he clearly was about to say 'nothing', but something stopped him. "You ever have a pet, Vansen?"
"Yes, sir. A German Shepard."
"Is it still alive?"
"No. But it's we've got some of her puppies' puppies still. My sister is keeping the dogs." She met his eyes squarely. "Do you have a pet, sir?"
"Not any more."
"That letter was to notify me that he died in his sleep." His gaze dropped to his untouched drink. Softly he added, "At least it was a painless death."
"I'm sorry, sir. What was he?"
"A tom cat, just a ratty old tom cat." Abruptly, McQueen picked up his scotch and drank it down swiftly. "Good night, Vansen."
"Good night, sir." She watched him stalk out of the Tun, saddened by his reluctance to admit to sorrow.
Back at the 5-8's table, she sat down. "It's none of our business."
Sour looks greeted her words, but they quickly turned to other topics.
Back in his quarters, McQueen reached over to where the nylon collar had fallen when he'd thrown it against the wall. The dented silver bell tinkled merrily and he closed his fist around the collar, silencing the bell. Memories returned and he shook his head, smiling sadly.
He'd just been transferred to the 127th when he met the unofficial mascot to the squadron, Sam. While showing him around, Collins had pointed out the furry fluff ball soaking on a window sill.
"That's Sam. He's adopted us. We feed him, keep him healthy and he graces us with his presence." Collins had grinned, stopped to gently stroke the cat's fur. "We have no idea where the hell he came from, but he's had a hard life. He's missing three out of four fangs, his ears are tatters and two thirds of his claws are gone. But he's a gentle soul, whatever his past."
The cat had lifted its head, stared at him with its mis-matched blue and brown eyes, blinked, merowed softly and twitched its tail once before lying back down.
"He doesn't usually talk to strangers immediately."
"Oh, you'll find he talks. We just don't understand what the poor fellow's saying, much to his annoyance." Collins had laughed softly.
A couple of days later, he had been sitting trying to write reports in his quarters sweltering in the heat, cursing the broken air conditioner, when he heard a 'merup' from his open window. The field that repelled the flies, but allowed the weak breeze entrance, proved no barrier to the cat as it proceeded to sit just inside the window. It sat and studied him, tail curled around its feet, ears pricked forward.
Sam had meowed, turned around and jumped down, leaving him wondering the cat had actually understood him or just the tone of his voice.
It was the first of many such visits and slowly he had stopped ordering Sam to leave immediately. Gradually Sam had ventured into his quarters, always neatly, never scattering papers or knocking over items. Sunny afternoons usually found Sam stretched out on his second desk, purring or sleeping. On days when Sam didn't show up, he had found himself missing the cat's quiet presence.
He had been the one to notice Sam losing weight and the general listlessness of the cat one day. For two days, he had watched Sam and debated on what to do. Late the second day, he had touched the cat for the first time, gently picking up Sam, surprised by the softness of the fur, but worried about the fact he could feel the bones so easily.
The veterinarian nurse had looked up, seen his expression and taken Sam from him, cradling the cat in her arms. She had asked quietly, "What seems to be the matter?"
"I don't think he's been eating. He's lost a lot of weight and he's not active."
"Ok. We'll check him out." When he had hovered, indecisive about whether to leave or not, she had said, "It would probably help him stay calm if you come back with me."
The veterinarian, Hopkins, and his assistance had examined Sam thoroughly. "Looks like a blockage in his intestines. A minor surgery, but at his age, I can't guarentee he'll make it through. Are you the owner?"
He'd shook his head. "He's the mascot."
"Well, someone is going to have to pay for this."
Meeting Sam's listless eyes, he'd said, "The rest of the squad is out on manuevers." The cat's eyes had closed and he had quickly said, "I'll pay for it."
Sam made it through the operation with flying colors. After that, Sam tended to stay near him when he was on base. Whenever he returned from a mission or a flight, Sam greeted him, sitting by the flight line fence. When a transport brought him back from the AI encampment where he'd been tortured, Sam had raced across the tarmac and leapt onto the gurney, his nose just touching his hand. For the first time, he actually petted Sam, using the cat as an anchor. Sam had refused to leave him in the hospital and quickly became the darling of the nursing staff. During his week long convalesence in his quarters, Sam had rarely left his side and he became comfortable with Sam, allowing him to sit in his lap or sleep on the bed. As a consequence, he had bought bowls and a bed, insuring that there was always fresh water and food for Sam in his quarters.
Leaning back in his chair, McQueen closed his eyes, missing the throaty, rumbling purr, the nearly clawless paws kneading his thigh, and the calm acceptance in the mis-matched eyes. For some strange reason Sam had decided that he was his human and he had found himself becoming fond of the old cat. Sam had been an old cat. By Hopkin's reckoning six years ago, at least fifteen years old with all the attendant problems of age and an obviously hard life. But the cat was like him and took everything in stride and dignity.
They fell into a daily routine. In the morning, he would let Sam out and the cat would go wherever it was he had to for two to three hours. Then he'd return usually through the window and make his report. Tail curled around his feet, Sam would 'talk' for up to five minutes, a paw occassionally waving in the air, and his ears flicking back and forth indicating his emotional response to whatever it was he was refering to. The first time Sam had come back and started to make his report, he had been busy reading a report. He heard Sam start 'talking', glanced at him and returned to his reading. The next thing he'd known was a paw catching the top of his computer pad and pulling it down so that Sam could look at him. He'd chuckled and shaken his head. "I get the message. If I can listen to all of their reports, I can listen to yours." The silver bell he'd gotten so that he always knew when Sam was returning and would know to pay attention.
Sam would then take a nap for up to two hours before going out for a while and on his return, an afternoon report would follow. In the evenings, Sam would deign to curl up on his lap, kneading and purring contentedly, while he read a book, listening to music.
Rubbing the silver bell thoughtfully, he remembered that when he'd started dating Amy, the two took an instant dislike to one another and he supposed he should have listened to the cat's opinion more closely. When they had married and were living in base quarters, he'd insisted on a ground floor so that Sam could continue visiting his in-home office. When things between him and Amy turned bitter, he had taken refuge in the office until late in the night, Sam as his only companion.
The divorce meant that he had returned to smaller quarters and Sam had gladly followed, Until he had started the Green Meanies. Within a week of his getting hooked on them, Sam would refuse to sit in his lap, mostly because he couldn't sit still long enough to the old boy. He still remembered the reproachful look Sam would give him when the cat thought he was doing something wrong, whether it was getting up, working too late at night, or not being able to sit still. When his friend, Glen, had talked him into checking into the hospital to break the addiction, Sam had managed to sneak in somehow or maybe he let Glen smuggle him in. He clearly remembered waking up one day late in the week long process and finding the cat snuggled up against his chest, purring away.
Sam had been there again while the doctors had been working to keep him alive after the Chigs had nearly killed him and destroyed the rest of his squadron. The bright eyes had started to dim. It had been hard to leave Sam behind while he took the space duty. Fortunately, he had been able to get the veterinarian to take Sam in while he was fighting the war.
A sad smile touched his lips as he absently turned the collar in his hand. He could only be glad that Hopkins hadn't been in the room while he'd explained to Sam that he couldn't bring him along into space. The throaty purr had rumbled to a stop and he could swear the cat had sighed before swatting gently at his hand and licked his fingers several times.
With a sigh, McQueen reached over and took the envelope that Hopkins had sent. A slim framed picture slid out and he ran his thumb lovingly over the picture of Sam. Embedded in the upper left corner was the synthetic diamond that Hopkins had created from Sam's ashes. He cleared a spot on the desk and set it up next to his picture of his kids, positive that the next time Vansen entered his quarters she would spot it.
"Well, Sam, I hope it was a good life. I'd like to think it was while we were together."
The diamond twinkled and he heard the phantom rumble of the deep purr.
(Author's Note: Sam is a mixture of two such Sams that I have had the pleasure of knowing.)
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