This story is my answer to the cliff hanger we were given
at the end of "Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best." It is set
ten years in the future - S:AAB time - and is told through a series
of flashbacks. It is my explanation of what happened, and it is only
2074 LOXLEY, ALABAMA
"Major Damato is here, sir," the boy said.
"Thanks, David, send her in," McQueen replied. "And, uh, would you have them bring my car around?"
Major Shane Vansen-Damato walked into the office as the young adjutant walked out. Always a pretty girl, the Major had blossomed over the last few years into a strikingly beautiful woman, and her usual stunning good looks were only enhanced these days by impending motherhood. Vansen-Damato was hugely pregnant. At the moment, besides lovely, she was also out of breath.
"You didn't walk across base in this heat," McQueen demanded, coming out from behind his desk to greet her.
Shane made a face at him. She had only the walked the couple of blocks from her office, and she was in excellent physical condition. The natural restrictions that her incubating body placed on her were frustrating enough without denying herself the pleasure and convenience of foot travel on occasion.
"You're worse than Joe," she sighed affectionately. Leaning up, she pressed her cheek to his. "I'm fine. The exercise is good for me."
She let McQueen go, brushing her hands lightly over the "full bird" Colonel's eagles on his shoulders. Shane Vansen was the only one of the former Wild Cards who stayed in close personal contact with their old squadron commander, but that was a simple matter of opportunity; the others stayed in touch as they could and dropped in when ever they were in the neighborhood. Shane had the advantage of proximity; she was stationed at Loxley, her office not far from McQueen's own. She and her former commander tried to have lunch together whenever they could.
Even after the war had ended there was never a question in Shane Vansen's mind as to what she would do with the rest of her life. Though she had joined the Marines in peace time, she had done so with every intention of making it her life, and nothing about the war she had had to fight had changed that resolve. If anything, the war with the Chigs had just solidified her belief in the need for a strong military to insure ongoing peace - and it was a something she was determined to be part of. It was where she belonged. McQueen had once asked her if she had joined up because of her parents, she admitted that was part of the reason. But oddly, Vansen felt more of an individual within homogenousness of the Corps than she ever had outside it. She was a Marine, it was what she was always meant to be.
Of course, some things had turned out much differently than she could have anticipated. For one thing, never in her wildest dreams did Vansen ever expect to marry a doctor...
Vansen had met Navy surgeon Joseph Damato onboard the Saratoga. Surprising everyone, including herself, she had married on ship shortly before the war ended, a damp-eyed McQueen standing beside her. After the peace was won, finally, though, Damato had surrendered his commission and returned to civilian life. His current position on the staff of the base hospital was, in part, in deference to his wife's wishes; Shane had made it clear from the beginning of their relationship that the Corps was her home for life.
And until seven and one half months ago, Shane Vansen-Damato had honestly thought nothing, besides her immediate family, could be more important to her than the Marine Corps. Of course, she loved her husband, and she loved her sisters and their families. But she was dedicated to her position as executive officer with the Twenty-Third Air Squadron, honing her skills as a pilot and a leader, ambitious for advancement, committed to the Corps. The Marine Corps liked to come first with its Marines, and Shane willingly acquiesced, much to her husband's occasional exasperation. That was until this life had started in her, planned, but not fully realized, and her whole view of the world had turned inside out. Even the discomforts and inconveniences of her pregnancy, while frustrating, paled against the miracle of what was happening within her. Shane Vansen, career warrior, was filled with wonder at this growing life.
The baby kicked, and Shane smiled, touching her abdomen lightly. A small foot pressed against her palm.
"You okay?" McQueen asked worriedly.
"Fine," she insisted, laughing at the nervous look in his eyes. "I guess the baby likes the exercise, too."
Despite her pleasure in her new role, though, Shane Vansen was not about to sit at home. An active pilot until her pregnancy made it impossible for her to get into a plane, she was content enough to fly a desk, temporarily, but was equally determined that she would not be long out of the delivery room before she was back in the cockpit.
McQueen gave her one more long, appraising look, then relaxed a little. "All set?" he asked.
Vansen smiled at him warmly. She knew it was not just her physical vulnerability that had McQueen on edge, today. Because she saw him often, the subtle lines of change were not always apparent to her, but she could see them, today. He looked older, more care worn. And a little tense, for someone who was about to take the afternoon off for a leisurely luncheon with an old friend. She knew this was an odd day for him, it was for her, too. Today was the anniversary of the day when peace with the Chigs had first been entertained and then so tragically lost, the day when McQueen had been so brutally injured. The day the Wild Cards had "died." It seemed like such a long time ago, now, but she knew it was right there, right in the backs of all their minds, wherever the rest of her old squadron was at that moment. They would be remembering. It was what bound them together, after all those years, as if they had needed any other bond.
"Whenever you're ready," she assured him. "It's your turn to pick the place."
Light came back again slowly. Shane Vansen groaned and opened her eyes. She was alive. She was breathing. The crash seats, the halo 'chutes somehow must have made the landing survivable, against all odds. Glancing up, she saw that the blast shields were bent off their carriage and the cockpit wind screen was shattered near the top of the craft; well, wherever they were, the atmosphere must be breathable or she would be dead. Her head hurt something fierce and there was blood in her eyes. She moved to take her helmet off, and nearly blacked out from the riveting pain that shot through her. Something in her upper body must be broken or torn: her shoulder, collar bone, a rib maybe. Moving more slowly, she freed herself of her head gear. The rim had cut into her brow and her scalp was bleeding. Have to take care of that with the first aid kit, couldn't risk infection. No telling how long they would be there. She could focus all right, which was a good sign, not that there was much she could do about a concussion if she had one.
It took her a moment to realize they were moving, and she wondered, at first, if she was more dizzy then she had thought. She concentrated on the movement, and then it hit her. They were bobbing. Floating. They had landed in some body of liquid. The emergency floats must have opened automatically. Either that, or they were sinking, had survived what should have been a fatal re-entry only to drown in an unknown sea. She pushed the speculation away. Whatever, there was nothing she could do about it, and she had other things to worry about as long as there was a possibility they might still make it. Unbuckling her safety harness with one hand, she turned carefully to Lt. Damphousse beside her.
"Vanessa." She shook her companion gently, wincing as the sharp pain shot through her side. She got no response for her efforts. " 'Phousse." Still no reaction, but the other woman did not seem any worse off than she had been before their crash landing. Limp, unconscious already, from the battle that had sent them here, she had been protected in the fall, like a drunk in a car crash, apparently. Vansen shifted forward in her seat, flexing body parts, seeking other damage. Legs worked. No pain there. She crawled carefully out of her seat and tried to take stock of her surroundings. The cockpit continued to toss gently, rocking a little as she moved. She wondered if there was life in this "ocean," if that's what it was. Although, after Anvil, she had had about all the alien encounters she wanted. Had it been Paul who had said it? She could not remember. But whoever had made the suggestion had been right, it stood to reason that there must be more than them and the Chigs in this universe. Just not here, please God.
Paul. West and Hawkes. The Colonel. Would she ever see any of them again? Had they made it back to the Saratoga? Would McQueen be all right? They said he had lost a leg in that explosion. Despair settled over her, suddenly, and she closed her eyes, fighting tears. Dammit, as long as they were still breathing there was still hope. She could not give up so quickly. The others knew where they had gone down. As soon as the civilians were settled, they would come back looking, Nathan and Cooper and Paul. That was, if they, themselves, had survived to tell anyone where they were.
Shaking herself, she moved over beside Damphousse, loosening the other woman's safety harness as best she could, and removing her helmet. With gentle hands she cradled Vanessa's face, and tried to assess her injuries. There were no marks that she could see on her friend's dark skin, no bleeding on her face and scalp. She really needed to get her out of her flight suit and take a better look, but that was not going to happen unless Damphousse regained consciousness. She could barely move, herself, let alone lift her companion.
Settling Damphousse in what she hoped would be a comfortable position, Vansen struggled back to her side of the cockpit. She kicked a lever on the base of her chair and leaned away as the whole thing tipped backward, revealing a deep well beneath it. The compartment held certain survival gear: a fine thermal sheet, a shelter, which would be useless to them unless they made landfall somewhere, and food for five days, which could be stretched to more if they were careful. It was not as if they were going to be expending a lot of energy out there. A few small bottles of drinking water, and a fluids reclamation unit. If the stuff they seemed to be floating in was anything like water, the FRU might be able to render it drinkable. If not, their personal waste - sweat, urine and feces - could be processed into drinking water. An unpleasant thought, but better than dying of thirst. Vansen made note of the emergency beacon lying beside its small, hand held launcher. A mixed blessing that. It would show anyone searching for them where they were, but that might include any alien creatures living in the "briny deep" outside, who might be looking for a fast meal, or any Chigs in the vicinity. Well, she would decide about that later. First order of business was to get all of this out of the hold.
She leaned down, and nearly blacked out from the pain that shot through her body, smacking her between the eyes. For a moment, she could not breathe, and then slowly she settled back in the tiny space between the command seat and the cockpit bulkhead. She looked at Damphousse, and then down into the seat well. She knew she had to find a way past the pain, to move more slowly maybe, find a way to reach down there. They could not just starve to death an arms reach from food because it hurt too much to reach it. She would try again in a minute. First though, she just needed to close her eyes...
Vansen opened her eyes to find Damphousse looking at her.
"Are you all right?"
Vansen nodded. "I think I broke some ribs or my shoulder or something. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, a little woozy. Where are we? The last thing I remember is a Chig fighter in the forward port."
"We got hit, and severed from the ISSAPC," Vansen told her. "The impact of the blast knocked you out. The, uh, planet's gravity got us and we crash landed..."
"How did we survive?"
"It seems we've crashed into some sort of body of liquid. I don't know if it's a sea, or a big pond. Can't see out past the blast shields. But I guess it was enough to cushion our fall. I'm guessing the emergency flotation gear opened, or we'd have sunk by now. And the air must be friendly, or we'd be dead." She nodded at the crack in the upper part of the view port wind screen.
"How come we didn't just burn up in the atmosphere?" Damphousse wanted to know. "These things aren't really constructed for that kind of re-entry..."
Vansen just shrugged. "I don't know. But we didn't. Either that or the afterlife is highly overrated... Can you move? Are you hurt anywhere? I need to get the survival gear out of the hold, but I can't move very much. My side hurts a lot..."
Damphousse clambered out of her crash seat and went to sit on the deck beside her friend. The tiny space between the command seat and the bulkhead was barely big enough for the two small women to occupy. "It probably isn't your shoulder or you wouldn't be able to move your arm at all," she considered. "Let me take a look."
" 'Phousse," Vansen protested, but not too strenuously. She knew the other woman was right. Unzipping her flight suit to her waist, Damphousse lifted Vansen's jersey as high as she could, as gently as she could, and examined the discoloration spreading across her friend's right side. She probed with her fingers, eliciting a tortured cry from Vansen for her trouble.
"Ribs," she nodded sagely. She ran her fingertips along the base of Vansen's throat, saw her wince. "Maybe collar bone, too, but definitely ribs. Looks kinda bad. You better not move around too much."
"What about you?" Vansen insisted. "You were out cold."
"I must have hit my head," Damphousse replied. "I do feel sort of strange, I guess, but I'm not in any pain or anything. I'm sure it will pass."
Vansen nodded. "We've got to get this gear out..." But Damphousse was no longer listening and her expression had become vague and distant.
"Vanessa? What's wrong? Do you hear something?" There was not reaction. Vansen frowned. Maybe the other woman had hit her head harder than she realized. "Phousse?"
Damphousse blinked and focused on her. "What?" she asked, a little sharply.
"The gear," Vansen reminded her. "We've got to get it out of the hold." Damphousse nodded. Settling Vansen back against the bulkhead, she began emptying the space under the seat.
"Leave the shelter, it's not going to do us any good in here..." Vansen suggested.
"What about this?" Damphousse held up the emergency beacon. Vansen shook her head.
"It's too risky," she said. "If there are Chigs still out there, or something alive's in this ocean or what ever it is..."
"The SARs will never find us without it," Damphousse argued, a little belligerently.
But Vansen shook her head. "No. Nathan knows where we went down. They'll find us."
If Nathan made it back, she did not add. But she could see it in Damphousse's eyes. If the others did not make it back to the Saratoga, there would be no SARs to worry about. Commodore Ross would assume that she and Damphousse had died with them. She sighed, fighting despair, as Damphousse leaned over to toss the beacon down on top of the rest of the stuff.
Leaning back against the bulkhead behind her, Vansen closed her eyes and concentrated on breathing. It hurt like hell, each expansion of her chest sent shooting pains down her arms, but the worst was the feeling that she just could not get enough air into her lungs. She felt a little like she was drowning.
Around them, the "sea" tossed gently, its rocking motion mirroring Shane Vansen's rasping staccato breath.
Next : Part Two
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