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
The Saratoga November 1, 2063
Twice during the night Com. Brill had heard Dr. Kirkwood call out in
her sleep. The first time, Brill had gone to check on Kirkwood, she
was surprised to find Col. McQueen still sitting by the Doctor’s
bedside. Before Brill had a chance to send him on his way, she watched
in awe as the moody Colonel whispered quietly to her patient, and Dr.
Kirkwood was soothed, without waking.
“Colonel?” She motioned McQueen to the door. “I thought you left
“I owe a debt.” McQueen looked embarrassed for a moment, then his face
closed down, grim and serious. “Maybe this will be a down payment on
“You owe me a drink for letting you stay,” Brill’s eyes sparkled.
McQueen playing nurse was something she thought she would never see.
“And none of that rot gut they serve in the Tun. If I’ve learned
anything in my 20 years in the Navy it’s that any Marine ‘worth his
salt’ has a bottle of good scotch stashed away somewhere.”
“Well, never let it be said that I’m not ‘worth my salt’. You name the
time and the place.” McQueen gave her one of his half smiles and started
to turn back to his real concern.
“McQueen,” Brill touched his arm. “Be out before change of shift. I
don’t want any trouble.”
“You won’t even know I was here,” he whispered as he returned to guard
Jenny, ignoring the double meaning in Brill’s words.
Joan Brill shook her head. I think the only thing that is important
is that the woman in that bed knows you’re here, bucko, she thought as
she checked on her other patients. She would give a month’s ration
points to hear the story behind all this.
McQueen made good on his promise. Brill never heard or saw him again
that night. One minute all was quiet, as she did her rounds, the next,
she heard water running in Dr. Kirkwood’s bay. It was her only clue
that the Colonel must have left.
“Up a little early aren’t you, Doctor?” Com. Brill asked as she
entered the small room. The Doctor was leaning over the tiny sink
washing her face. “How did you sleep?”
“A few nightmares. Nothing I couldn’t handle,” Jenny avoided the
Commander’s eyes. They both pretended that McQueen hadn’t been in the
room most of the night.
“How’s your head doing?” Brill was fascinated by the woman standing in
front of her wearing a hospital gown, short curly hair that looked as if
someone had taken a hatchet to it, and a small gold rope bracelet on her
left wrist. There was more than meets the eye to this one.
“Much better, but I hurt in places the medical texts say don’t exist,”
Jen groaned as she stretched. “How are my patients doing?”
“The General was restless during the night, but everyone else slept
well. There’s a Red Cross transport due in today to take wounded out to
the “Clara Barton.” As of last night, the General and three of the
others were slated to be on it.” Brill didn’t miss the proprietary way
the doctor spoke of the men she had been stranded with.
“I want to see them before they go.” Jen stated briskly. “Sorry,
Commander,” she grinned as she realized how rude she had sounded
bossing the nurse around her own Sickbay. “I guess you can take the
patients away from the doctor, but you can’t take the doctor away from
“Understood, Doctor,” Brill smiled back. “You need to get back in
that bed. Pull up something to read, if you like, on the console to
your left, but rest a bit more. Breakfast will be brought around in 30
mikes and the Doc’s will be rounding not long after that. Commodore
Ross left a message that he’ll be in to talk with you at 1100 hours.”
She helped Jen back to bed, then took her through the commands to pull
up the ship’s library before she left.
Some of what Brill had heard and seen in the last twelve hours was
beginning to make sense. Every time she had spoken to any of the men
from Kordis, they had a new story to tell of the ‘Lady-Doc’ and how she
had kept them all alive for almost four weeks. The men, particularly
liked to tell of the tales that Kirkwood had told them to keep them
occupied. Daring adventures about a Marine pilot, they all referred to
as ‘The Major’. McQueen’s presence here, last night, made sense, if
Brill’s line of thinking was correct. She bit her lip to keep from
sighing this can only end badly for the little Doc, she thought.
“Are you up for some visitors?” A short dark haired Marine stuck her
head in Jenny’s room. Jen thought she looked familiar, but couldn’t
“Do I know you?” She had just finished eating breakfast and pushed her
tray-table to the side, sitting straighter in bed.
“Sorry, Doc, I’m Lt. Shane Vansen and we’re the Wildcards,” she
indicated, as she introduced each men and women standing behind her.
“We helped take you off planet yesterday. We wanted to see how you were
“Please, come in,” Jen welcomed the company, even if it came in a
crowd. “Thank you again for what you did.”
“No problem, Ma’am. We were glad to help,” Wang smiled.
“We come with gifts,” ‘Phousse added as she held out a black Saratoga
coffee mug that she had been hiding behind the tall Marine standing in
front of her.
“Well then definitely come in,” Jenny grinned as she smelled coffee.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“Here you go Ma’am,” ‘Phousse handed over the mug and marveled as Jenny
curled both hands around it, inhaling the aroma, before she took a sip.
She appeared to be enjoying the coffee with as many senses as could be
brought into play.
“How? How did you know?” Jen took another swallow. They had all
missed coffee on Kordis, but this was the closest to a cappuccino she
had had in months! She could even taste a slight hit of nutmeg.
“We can’t take the credit for it, Ma’am,” Wang replied. “We ran into
Colonel McQueen as we were leaving the Mess. He commented that the
coffee was bad down here, during his last ‘stay.’ Since he was about to
send his usual morning cup back, we took advantage of the situation.”
“Oh..ahh..well, please give the Colonel my thanks,” Jen kept her eyes
on the milky liquid until she was sure her face was under control.
She had introduced him to the joys of cappuccino. And he still drank
“Sure will Ma’am. You really like that stuff? There are a couple of
Tanks that work in the Mess. They make it up for him special, every
morning. I could....,” Hawkes wanted to make a good impression on the
woman who had done so much for in-vitros. He was surprised when her mug
hit her table with a thud and she looked at him with cold eyes.
“No one, Lieutenant...” Jen looked on his shirt to verify his name,
“Hawkes. No one, uses that expression in front of me! The word is
in-vitro, not tank. In-vitro, if you must make a distinction at all?
Got that?” Her eyes were laser sharp as she looked into his.
“But Ma’am..” Hawkes was caught out of his depth. He had never run
into a natural-born that was so passionate about the issue, unless they
were chasing him with a rope.
“Excuse me, Dr. Kirkwood,” Nathan cut in. “Hawkes IS an in-vitro.”
“All the more reason you shouldn’t use that degrading term,
Lieutenant.” Her voice softened as she motioned Hawkes to her side.
“That’s one of the many ways people use to control you. If you think of
yourself as less, how can you possibly expect others to think of you
as an equal? It’s bad enough that they take away your heritage?” She
shook her head. “Please, don’t get me started on this issue. I’ll talk
your ears off.” Jenny picked up her ‘almost cappuccino’ and savored the
“Would you autograph this?” Nathan West stepped forward, holding his
copy of THE IN-VITRO CHRONICLES. “I never heard you speak, but we were
at the Rights rally in Houston. You had been slated to be there, but
were scratched at the last minute due to illness.
Jenny held the book in one hand. Her other hand moved to the back of
her neck to her scar. She hadn’t been sick. She had been mugged just
hours before she was to speak at the rally. It was a relief to know
that it wasn't general knowledge.
“You really want me to sign this?” She blushed.
“Sure do, Doc. You’re a part of history,” Nathan smiled at the woman
whose book was having such an impact on so many lives.
“That’s not why I wrote this,” Jenny protested. “It was something that
needed to be written, that’s all. It was never meant to be about me.
It was only to be a small book that told in-vitros where they came
from. Give them a reason to feel proud about their century old
heritage...” Jen ran out of steam as she faced the grinning Marines.
“Well it did all that, and more.” ‘Phousse smiled at the woman who
had unwittingly caused sweeping social changes. “After Diane Hayden
was elected as Secretary General of the World, she quoted your book on
the Floor of The World Council, squelching once and for all any
attempt to bring back indentured servitude.”
“I didn’t realize how out of touch I had been. I wasn't even sure who
won the election. I‘ve been on Kordis for the last three months.” She
shook her head at all that had happened. “Do I make this out to you,
Nathan?” She indicated the book in her hand.
“Could you sign it to.... Kylen and Nathan?” A silence fell over the
room at West’s request. Jen didn’t miss the tension as she quickly
wrote on the inner cover of the book then handed it back to West.
“Thanks..” He read the inscription and caught his breath. ‘To Kylen &
Nathan: always believe in the future, Jenny Kirkwood.’ “Thanks Ma’am,
will you excuse me?” West left quietly with the book in hand.
“What did I do wrong?” Jen addressed the rest of the 58th.
“You did something very right, Doctor,” ‘Phousse stepped toward her
bed. She had seen the inscription in the book. “Nathan’s fiancee,
Kylen was on the Tellus Mission. Nathan was supposed to be there, too,
but, well it’s a long story.”
“Does he know if she’s alive?”
“He believes she is. WE believe she is.” The four young people
shook their heads in agreement as ‘Phousse spoke.
“Why don’t you guys head back,” Shane indicated to Wang and Hawkes to
break the silence “’Phousse and I’ll follow shortly.”
After the men had said their good-byes, Shane stepped toward the woman
in the hospital bed. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, Dr.
Kirkwood.” Shane reached to her sleeve pocket. “I cut my own hair,
‘Phousse’s, and a few others. I couldn’t help noticing yesterday....?”
Her voice subsided as she pulled out a pair of short sharp scissors.
“You think I need it evened out a bit?” Jen giggled. She had dreaded
facing Commodore Ross looking as if her hair had been through a meat
grinder. “I’m a good surgeon, but cutting hair just isn’t the same. I
was trying to figure out how I could get down to the ship’s barber.”
“Don’t go there unless you want a buzz cut.” Both of her visitors said
at the same time, causing all three women to laugh as they helped Jen to
a chair and wrapped a blanket around her.
“It’s really not as bad as it could be,” Shane ran her hands through
the uneven curls. “What did you use to cut it, a k-bar?” She joked.
“Actually, yes” Jenny admitted shyly.
“In that case you did a great job....” ‘Phousse saw a dark look come
over Shane and the room became deathly quiet.
“I forgot to worn you,” Jenny froze as she realized that Vansen and
Damphousse were staring at the back of her neck. “Look guys it’s just
“It’s a burn scar,” she could feel Vansen’s rage. “And not that old of
one either. How in the hell did that happen?”
“It’s nothing, really,” Jenny denied.
“It looks like something from where I’m standing! Did one of those men
on Kordis hurt you, Ma’am?”
“No, no,” Jenny protested. “They would never hurt me.” She thought for
a moment, but didn’t see an alternative to the truth. “I’ll tell you,
but it isn’t to go any further and that’s an order,” Jen spoke with an
authority that neither Marine could deny.
“Yes, Ma’am,” they both answered.
“Your hair’s a bit short in the back. Part of that scar is going to
show,” Shane added.
“Just do the best you can, please. I’ll deal with any questions, if
they should arise.” Jenny turned in the chair. Gathering courage to
talk about what happened.
She relaxed as she felt Vansen run her hands through her hair and heard
the quiet snipping of scissors. Both Marines were waiting uneasily for
“Ok,... it was at the rally that Lt. West spoke about.......The one
where I was to speak.......Then got too ‘sick’ to attend.....” Jenny
talked in fits and starts. She had told most of the story to one other
person. His anger had been so great that he had cut himself off from
her, convinced that he held part of the blame. “There were five of
them......I fought......,ended up with some broken ribs and a broken
wrist.........One of them decided......He decided that since I was in
favor of in-vitros, that they would give me a navel on the back of my
neck. The one who did it was a cigar smoker, I could smell it on him.
That's what they used.”
“My God!” ‘Phousse was shocked. Shane stopped cutting and gripped
“It could have been worse.” Jen swallowed bile as she thought about
what they would have done to her. This part she hadn’t told anyone
else. Ty’s anger had been so great as it was, that she hadn’t dared tell
him everything. It felt good to be able to talk to women. “They had
started to...to tear at my blouse, when Cigarman, decided it would be
cute to brand me first. It saved me, really it did. My screams were
heard and they were scared off.”
“Were they ever caught?” Shane asked. Her voice calm, but ‘Phousse
could see the deadly look in her eyes.
“No, it was dark, and they threw a hood over my head and well.... Look
it was months ago... The burn had to heal in order to get optimal
results from plastic surgery, but war broke out. And well, I just
didn’t want to deal with it. It cost me too much.” Jen needed badly to
change the subject. “How’s the hair coming along?”
“Take a look for yourself,” Shane helped Jen over to the mirror above
“You did a great job, thanks!” She smiled at her reflection, then
turned to the women who were watching her. “You’re right, the scar
isn’t covered completely. If you should hear any talk, or questions,
please, say you heard I received the injury when the ISSCV crashed four
“You gave us an order, Ma’am, we will follow it,” Shane looked every
inch a fighting Marine.
“Lt. Vansen, you and I know there are ways around that. I may be Navy
Medical Corps, but I wasn't born yesterday. It’s not for me that I’m
asking this.” The stuttering frightened woman of a few moments ago was
replaced by a commanding personality. “I’m not the only Movement
supporter this has happened to. One hears rumors all the time. In the
few cases where it was verified, it caused a polarization of factions
and violence broke out. The Movement is a peaceful one. Violence only
detracts from the real issues and, in many cases, serves to remove any
progress that is being made. This is a ship of 5,000 people and I
refuse to be the cause of harm to anyone, on either side of the issue.”
“Point taken, Dr. Kirkwood,” ‘Phousse stepped forward and touched her
shoulder. “Your secret is safe with us?”
“Thank you very much. Not only for the haircut, but for listening. I
didn’t realize how much I missed the company of women.”
“Anytime, Ma’am,” Shane smiled. “We need to be getting back now. Let
us know if there is anything we can do for you.”
Jenny looked at her watch. It was only 0930 and she was getting
restless. Dr. Voss had been in shortly after her visit from the
Wildcards. She had enjoyed the ‘Card’s stay over Voss’. He had been
short tempered, bordering on rude. Although he hadn’t said when she was
getting out of Sickbay, he had extended her ambulation privileges so
she felt free to move about and visit the men who had been her patients.
Reaching for the gear bag she had always worn when in the field, and
pulling a hospital robe over her gown, she headed out to see General
Savage. She had something she had to give him before he was evacuated
to the ‘Clara Barton.’
“General?” She knocked quietly on the door of his room. “It’s Dr.
Kirkwood, may I come in?”
“Come,” he called out.
Jen moved to the bed where the General was propped up. He was still
pale, but there was no sign of fever. “How are you feeling today?” She
automatically reached for his wrist and took his pulse.
“I’m doing much better, young lady. I owe you for my life and for the
lives of the men who were with us.” A stark white dressing hid his
left shoulder and what was left of his upper arm, making the big man
look even bigger.
“Not for all of them,” Jen bit her lip as she remembered the three who
had survived the crash, but she had been unable to save in the days that
“It may not be proper, but given the lack of furniture, Doctor, sit up
here beside me, while we talk.” Savage patted the bed where his left arm
should have been. He waited while Jen pulled herself up to sit where he
“That’s better, now I don’t have to worry about you passing out,” he
smiled at her. “Lady-Doc, you did all you could do. You kept us alive
for almost four weeks, which is just short of amazing.”
“General, it’s hard, knowing that things would have been different if
my working conditions hadn’t been so primitive.” She raised a hand
helplessly pointing where his missing arm should have been. “I am so
sorry for having to do that the way it was done.”
“Jenny,” he gripped her hand in his. “It saved my life. The doctors
tell me the flap is healing nicely and I’ll be able to be fitted with a
prosthesis when I get back to Earth. Ok, so maybe not one of the new
ones, using AI circuitry, but I’ll be fine. Just think how different
things could have been, if you had nothing to work with at all, or even
worse, if you hadn’t survived the crash. We all would have died. ‘The
past is the past and can’t be changed, we can only change how we let
it affect our future.’” He grinned at her as he quoted from The
Recognizing her own words, she blushed. “I hadn’t realized you had
read it, Sir.”
“I may not agree with your politics. But I am not a man who restricts
his reading to one side of an issue, my dear.”
The door had opened as they were talking and Commodore Ross and Col.
McQueen arrived for their meeting with the General. “Sorry to interrupt
you Frank,” Ross called out. “I’d like you to meet Lt. Col. McQueen.
He is the man I mentioned when we talked earlier.”
“Colonel.” Savaged nodded his head at McQueen.
“Sir.” McQueen’s acknowledgement was respectful, but crisp.
“It’s no interruption, Glen. This is Dr. Kirkwood. I was telling you
about her last night.” A significant looked passed between the two high
ranking officers that Jenny missed and McQueen didn’t like.
His back to the closed door. Something sharp was gnawing at McQueen’s
insides. He had heard the gentle endearment the General had used toward
Jen and she was sitting on his bed and holding his hand. Maybe, she had
changed over the years? Maybe, she was the type to be casual about a
strange man’s bed? Maybe Savage wasn’t a stranger? They had been
stationed together for three months. He didn’t like what he was
thinking so he clamped down on it. Bury it, he thought to
himself. This is not productive thinking. Besides, it’s none of my
business. The winter chill in his eyes was the only clue that all was
not well in Tyrus Cassius McQueen’s world.
“I should be going,” Jenny slipped down from Savage’s bed. McQueen was
looking through her as if she didn’t exist. Where had the man gone who
had helped chase away the nightmares? She knew she had moved too fast
when black spots swam in front of her eyes and her head rang with
dizziness, causing her to grip the side table to regain her balance and
“Dr. Kirkwood?” Ross moved to her side. She had paled as she landed
on her feet.
“I’m okay, Commodore,” she held up her hand to ward him off. “Just a
touch orthostatic,...a..a...drop in blood pressure on a sudden
movement.” She clarified for the men who were staring at her. She took
another deep breath and squared her shoulders.
“I only stopped by to assure myself that you were all right and to give
you this before you’re shipped out for The Clara.” Jen reached in her
gear bag and opened the false bottom. “Here you go,” she handed over
his flight wings. “General, I’m very glad to be giving them back to
you, instead of to Commodore Ross, to give to your wife. If you’ll
excuse me, I’ll leave you to your meeting.”
Jenny walked quietly out of the room, back straight, head high,
refusing to look to the right or the left. The only outward sign of
nerves was her right hand fumbling with the bracelet on her left
wrist. Her dignified exit caused her to miss McQueen’s eyes softening
momentarily, as they followed her out of the room.
“Your wife? Frank what’s going on here?” Ross’ eyebrows shot up. He
knew his friend had been divorced for years. His ex-wife hated the Air
Force and would have probably destroyed the antique wings.
“This,” Savage handed the wings to Ross. “Look on the back. Under the
clasp, there’s a small compartment.” Ross followed Savage’s
instructions, and a tiny data chip fell into his hand.
“Well I’ll be damned. So that’s why you were so frantic to find them
last night.” Ross laughed. “The Doctor was too out of it to be
questioned then. I was going to talk to her myself this mornings. I’m
going to have to chat with whoever checked her belongings. And what was
all that malarkey about your wife?”
“When I realized how sick I was. I gave the wings to Lady-Doc to keep
in case I didn’t make it. I told her to give them to you, with very
special instructions to give them to my wife. I figured you would know
that something was up and check them carefully.” Shaking his head when
he thought of Jenny. “She’s quite something you know. That bag she
kept them in was never off of her, even when she slept. The data chip
was safer with her than it was with me. I’d bet money that she realized
there was more to my wings than sentiment.”
“Speaking of Dr. Kirkwood, I did a bit of gentle probing as you asked
me to last night. I brought Col. McQueen along, because he came to me
with further information that may be of interest to you.”
“I’d like to get this settled before I’m shipped out. I owe her my life
and I want to make sure she is safe. The information on that chip has
waited this long, another few minutes won’t matter.”
“I tapped into a few of my sources with the Joint Chiefs. It was
strange,” Ross frowned. He knew Savage wasn’t going to like what he
was going to tell him. “No one was willing to go out on a limb, but the
gist of it was that Dr. Jennifer Kirkwood was to be assigned to a ‘very
forward’ unit for the duration.”
“I was afraid of that.” Savage nodded as the thought. “That was about
the response I got when I tried to get her transferred off Kordis. I
pushed harder, then we got so busy trying to keep hidden from the Chigs,
it became a moot point. What is it that you can add to all of this,
“I talked to Dr. Kirkwood late last night.” McQueen proceeded
carefully, not wanting to compromise Jen in any way. He told Savage the
story that she had told him, about the defense of in-vitros after
Chartwell was killed. The subsequent closing of the Facility, and all
five doctors being shipped out.
“Sir,” he turned to Ross. “Is there anyway you could find out where
the other four doctors who ran The In-Vitro Health Facility are posted?”
“I’ll handle that from Earth, Colonel,” Savage cut in. “It might be
easier from there, and given my political leanings, there is less
chance that I’ll raise any red flags. Until we get this resolved, Glen,
can you keep Dr. Kirkwood here?”
“I’d be glad to. She’ll be an asset to the medical staff of the
“We’ll need more than that Glen, if we are to cover her tail and
yours.” Savage looked thoughtful.
“What did you have in mind?”
“We need to make sure she is assigned to a unit, at least on paper,
that sees a great deal of action. That seems to be the message you and
I are getting from the Joint Chiefs’ office.” Savage frowned, “I have
to tell you Glen, I don’t like this one bit. Either these are some
mighty strange coincidences, or someone wants Dr. Kirkwood and her group
out of the way permanently.”
“I’ve got the perfect place for her,” Ross smiled at McQueen, who got a
sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “The 5-8, Col. McQueen’s squad,
has two in-vitros in it. What better place to assign her.”
“Sir, she’s not a pilot, nor a Marine, what are we going to do with
her?” McQueen protested.
“This is a paper assignment only, Ty. She’ll spend most of her time in
Sickbay. One of your people is on loan aren’t they?”
“Yes, Sir.” McQueen thought quickly and pulled up the pertinent
details. “Lt. Winslow is doing temporary assignment with the 42nd, on
the Kitty Hawk. She won’t be back until late December.”
“We’ll quarter her into Winslow’s spot for the time being. It’ll make
things look more authentic and be easier for her to acclimate. Before
the Lieutenant gets back, we’ll move Kirkwood to quarters more fitting
her rank. I’d like to bunk her where we can keep an eye on her until we
get this mess straightened out. Ty, you and I’ll work out the details
later. I’ll let her know of her change of assignment when I meet with
her this morning.”
“Sir, I must protest.” McQueen didn’t know why he was fighting this so
hard, it made sense. “I don’t want my squad put at risk due to a
non-combat trained person.”
“Colonel,” the General cut in. “Remember she spent over three months
on Kordis. During the last four weeks, while we were in hiding, she may
have not been the highest ranking officer there, but she was in
command. Once I’m sure it’s safe to do so, without calling undue
attention to the her, I’m going to see that she is decorated for it.”
“Ty, this’ll work. Having a doctor with your squadron could have saved
us all a lot of trouble and maybe given us a jump on that new Chig
‘light bomb’ the 5-8 ran into on Tatarus. It won’t be any different
from when Dr. Kirkwood was Medical Specialist to the Angry Angels.”
“There wasn’t a war on then, Sir,” McQueen added. The last thing he
wanted was for it to be a repeat of Jen’s time with the Angels. His
self-control couldn’t take it.
“You were with the Angels?” Savage asked. He was remembering the
stories he had heard about the 127th over the years. Now he know why
some of Dr. Kirkwood’s tales had sounded so familiar.
“Do I have to make that an order, Colonel?” Ross raised his eyebrows
at McQueen, not understanding the in-vitro’s protests.
“No Sir, we’ll make it work.” McQueen was determined to do just that.
The General gaged the cool-eyed Colonel by the door. He hadn’t missed
the look of surprised dislike that McQueen had quickly suppressed, when
he had first entered the room. Savage had thought it was due to the
General’s anti-in-vitro political stance. But he had seen the way
McQueen’s body had tensed when the doctor turned so white and dizzy.
Then watched as the Colonel appeared to relax, leaning back as if he
didn’t have a care in the world, when Ross took charge of that
situation. Maybe there was more to this than meets the eye?
It made a man wonder when Kirkwood and McQueen had had a chance to
talk. For that matter, Savage knew that the Doctor was no whiner.
There had to be a bond here for Jenny to have told McQueen the story
that he had just told them. It all added up to a very interesting
picture. Was this tough Colonel the source of the Doctor’s hidden
strength? Savage thought to himself. It looked like Ross had picked
the right man for the job to keep the her
“Dr. Kirkwood,” Ross stuck his head into Jenny’s room at exactly 1100
hours. “May I come in?”
“Please do, Commodore.” She pushed aside the console where she had been
writing a report of the last four weeks. “Have a seat, Sir. It looks
like doctors rate higher than Generals in Sickbay. I got some
furniture,” she cocked her left eyebrow in humor.
“General Savage has been telling me some amazing stories about you,
Doctor.” It was hard for Ross to imagine the slight woman, sitting
before him, having the strength to do all that she did.
“I did what needed to be done, Sir. I only wish it could have been
more.” Jen tensed and fingered the gold rope bracelet on her left
“Were you negligent in your duties in anyway?” Ross’ voice was gruff.
“Were you careless?”
“No, Sir.” Jen gripped the thin rope tighter. “You’ll have my report
as soon as I get it finished.”
“Damn your report,” Ross reached over and covered Jenny’s hands with
his. “Listen to me, Lieutenant Commander, you did your best. From
where I sit, that was damn fine. You can’t carry the responsibility of
this war on your shoulders. All you can do is your best and get on with
it. Do I make myself clear? Besides, you’re going to break that pretty
bracelet, if you’re not careful.”
“Yes, Sir, and thank you,” Jen smiled at him as she forced her hands to
relax. When had this become a habit, she wondered, still feeling
the imprint of gold rope on her fingers.
“I should be thanking you, Doctor,” Ross gave her hand another squeeze
before letting go of it. “You saved the life of one of my best
friends. Frank Savage may Air Force, but I don’t hold that against
him, too much. We go back a long way.”
“Did anyone ever tell you that you’re a very nice man, Commodore?”
Jenny smiled at Ross.
“Please, Doctor, talk like that will ruin my reputation.” Ross screw
up his face into a fierce scowl making them both laugh.
“Don’t ever let it be said I tampered with anyone’s reputation.” Jen
countered as she fluttered her eye lashes outrageously.
“Dr. Kirkwood, I see it is going to be a pleasure to have you around.”
Ross liked talking to Jennifer Kirkwood. She was sensitive, smart and
“You have a new posting, as of 1300 hours today.” Now came the tricky
part. Ross needed to make this sound as if it was completely normal to
assign a doctor to a Marine Aviator Calvary Unit. “I know you’ve been
with the General for the lasts three months, but I approached him to see
if he would release you to serve on the Saratoga.”
“You’ll have to excuse me, Commodore, but I wasn’t aware that was how
assignments were given.” Jen had a feeling she was being maneuvered,
and didn’t like it.
“They usually aren’t, but I have a squad with some special needs, and
we’re understaffed in Sickbay. Since you were only on loan to the Air
Force for the Kordis assignment, you fill the bill.” Ross looked her in
the eyes and dared her to call him a lair.
“This squad? What kind of special needs, Sir?” Jenny was skeptical,
but couldn’t figure out why the Commodore would be trying to pull a fast
one on her.
“The 58th, Colonel McQueen’s squad, has two in-vitros. Since you have
a speciality in that area, the plan is for you to split your time
between them and the Saratoga’s Sickbay. I believe you’ve worked with
the Colonel when you were both with the 127th.”
Oh, Lord, that was why McQueen had looked as if he was about to spit
nails when she had seen him in the General’s room. He thought of her
as nothing but trouble. Unfortunately, passing out at his feet on
Kordis only proved his point. This didn’t feel right to Jenny. She
was missing a piece of the puzzle.
“What’s really going on here, Sir?” Jenny challenged.
“You have been given a new assignment, Lieutenant Commander,” Ross
brazened it out. “Dr. Voss is releasing you from here this afternoon.
I’ll see that Col. McQueen has one of his people escort you to your new
quarters. I’m told it will be a few days before you’re fit to return to
active duty, so use the time wisely.”
“Yes, Sir.” Things were spiraling out of Jenny’s control again and she
didn’t like it.
The Wildcard’s Quarters early November 2063
Jenny fought in her sleep. No matter how fast she tied off a vessel,
another one would appear and bleed. The old pattern became a mantra:
tie, tie, cut; tie, tie, cut. Nothing was working, she couldn’t stop
the bleeding. She would have given her soul for a laser lig-a-ture.
She was back in the cave and there were bodies everywhere. Her hands
were covered in blood as she looked around in despair. She hadn’t been
able to save any of them. Then there was a light at the entrance to
the cave. Ty was there, holding out his hand and calling her name.
She turned and ran toward him, but just as she touched his fingers,
they turned to dust and a laugh could be heard echoing back at her.
You don’t think I’m really alive do you?
She jerked herself awake. Her hands covering her mouth. She looked
around frantically, but everyone else seemed to be asleep. Her heart
was pounding and her tank top was damp with sweat. Getting quickly out
of bed she pulled on a pair of sweat pants and shoes. Quietly moving to
the door, she slipped out of the quarters she shared with the
Wildcards. This wasn’t working out. She didn’t know which she was more
afraid of: her nightmares; or accidentally waking one of the young
Marines as she called out their commanding officer’s name in her sleep.
It was the third night in a row Jenny’s dreams had sent her walking
through the darkened corridors of the Saratoga. Tonight’s was the worst
since she had left Kordis. She knew the cause was the telegram she had
hidden under her pillow. The one she had received today notifying her
of Carmine Delaney’s death on an obscure moon in an out-of-the-way
sector of space. It was hard to imagine the gentle old doctor dead in
an horrific battle.
Breathing deeply she concentrated on the slight rumble of engines that
could be heard moving through the deck plating. Daytime noises obscured
the gentle voice of the great ship. It was only at night that one could
hear it. Like hearing footsteps on Broadway at dawn. She grinned
to herself, You’ve been watching too many old vids, my girl. But oh,
it helped take the mind off what was really important.
“Jen?” McQueen spoke quietly. The woman passing him in the hall had
been so absorbed in her thoughts she hadn’t seen him. “What are you
doing wandering around at this hour of the night?”
“I..a..” She stuttered. He had caught her completely off guard.
“Insomnia or nightmares?” One look in her eyes and he had the answer
to his question.
“A bit of both,” she bit her lip, embarrassed. If anyone had to find
her, why did it have to be McQueen? Since she had been assigned to his
squad, three days earlier, he had taken to sending her terse messages
by way of Vansen or West. If he bothered to communicate with her at
“Come with me,” he knew just how to help her. He would tally the cost
to his composure later. “I’ve got an idea that might help.”
“Ty, I’m not going to the gym at this hour. I’ve already worked out
once today.” She noticed his sweat suit and knew where he had been
heading when she ran into him.
“That’s good,” he turned to head back where he had come from. “That’s
one less argument we’ll have, tonight.”
Five minutes, and a number of flights of stairs later they were in a
small windowed alcove high above the port docking bays.
“Oh my!” Jen shivered in awe as she looked out into space with an
unrestricted view for 180 degrees. Her sweat damp tank top cold
against her now dried skin, made her shiver again. “This is
“Take this.” McQueen pulled his sweat shirt over his head. Leaving
him in sweat pants and a black t-shirt.
“I can’t. What about you?” Her protests were lost as he shoved it over
her head and she was enveloped by the scent of him. His body-warmed
shirt felt good against her skin. It was as if she was surrounding by
him. Jenny locked her knees tightly so she didn’t fall over as
sensations assailed her.
“Don’t argue with me, Jen. I’m not the one running around the ship
inadequately dressed.” He pulled the waist band below her hips shaking
his head at her and helping her sit on a ledge that allowed just enough
room for two.
“Thanks,” she said gathering her arms around her and tucking her nose
into the soft material of McQueen’s sweat shirt. She inhaled deeply.
Delaying tactics, that's what she needed. The man sitting next to her
was too perceptive and all her defenses were down. She needed to
reconstruct her walls before he took a good look at her again, or she
would embarrass them both. “Why do l always smell Hammerhead fuel when
I’m around you?”
McQueen snorted as he was caught by surprise. A thing that didn’t
happen very often, but the woman sitting next to him had an uncanny
knack of doing just that. “Hammerhead fuel you say?”
“Yes,” she breathed against the shirt again. “And I think sandalwood
aftershave? I remember the mixture of scents as far back as the detox
“Very good. Anyone who works around the Hammers will end up with that
smell. It’s from the residue that’s left from the clean burn of HE3.
You can’t see it, but it’s there. It gets on your hands and clothes
and even the Saratoga’s industrial strength laundry won’t get it out.”
Laughing McQueen didn’t realize that anyone but a pilot or member of the
flight crew would have picked up on that detail. He also, realized she
was trying to change the subject.
“No more straw dogs, Jen. Talk to me.” His voice was just above a
whisper as he stared out into the night.
“You’re a quick learner.” She sighed, recognizing words she had used on
him more than once.
“I had a good teacher. So don’t change the subject.” He was watching
her reflection in the glass. She looked like she was surrounded by
“I’m having dreams of the last months, since the war began.” Her voice
cracked. “All the death I’ve seen and couldn’t stop.”
“Why didn’t you come to me sooner?”
“What I’ve seen. What I’ve experienced. It’s so.....” Jen searched
for the right words. “It’s hard to talk to anyone about it. And
you...well it didn’t seem fair to bring it to you.”
McQueen had expected her to say almost anything but that. Jen,
always the doctor! He was angered that she still thought of him as
her patient. Would he never get out of detox in her mind? He sat
there in the quiet, listening to her breathing. Trying to pull his
anger in and letting her words play through his mind a second time.
“It’s so beautiful here. It's hard to imagine that a war is going on
out there somewhere.” Jenny tried to deflect the anger that was filling
the small space between them.
“You didn’t think I would understand?” McQueen wasn’t going to let her
bury his question in small talk.
“No!” Jenny turned to him. Her walls frail, but in place enough to
withstand his scrutiny in the shadowy corners. “That’s not it at all.
I was....embarrassed. My problems seem so trivial. You’ve been through
so much more.”
“Oh, Jen, no. Never that. What you went through was the worst for
you. I hope you never have to go through anything more. There is no
need to be embarrassed.” McQueen looked deep into Jenny’s face, but
saw only shadows. “Once when I needed it badly, you shared your sky and
stars with me. Do you know when I’m talking about?”
“I remember. That first trip to Catalina.” Her voice crackled with
tears she was fighting to keep locked in her throat.
“Some people say that in-vitros don’t have souls, but if we do, that
trip saved mine.” He wished he could see Jen’s face. See what she was
really thinking. He could tell she was hurting, but he didn’t know how
to make it go away. Amy had always said he didn’t have a clue how to
give comfort. She was right about that. Up until now, it hadn’t really
“I never knew?” She looked up, her hand in a tight fist against his arm
to keep from reaching out for him. “I never knew it meant that much to
“It did. I had hit bottom and you showed me freedom. Not just freedom
to leave the clinic, but a freedom of spirit that I had only
experienced when I flew.” McQueen looked over Jen’s head at the stars
out the window, letting them replenish him. “You see, I always knew
that someday I wouldn’t be able to fly any longer. I didn’t expect it
to happen so soon, in fact, I hoped I would go down with my Hammer.
But the fear of something like this happening ate at me. You gave me
the means to overcome that and much more. I’ve always wondered how you
knew what I needed.”
“I looked in your eyes and saw the same thing that I see when I look in
my mirror sometimes.” Jenny shrugged. “You need to touch the stars,
Ty. I need to step into the wind. Those are the things that sustain
us. From the deck of my boat you were able to look up and find stars to
“The Doctor has a soul of a poet. Who would have guessed?” He should
have known, she was so perfect in so many ways, why not that as well.
“Well Doctor-poet, I can’t give you the wind and the sea that you crave,
but,” he pointed out the window to nothing but stars. “You’ve got that
anytime you want it.”
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