Did you ever wonder how Ross and McQueen first met? Here's my take on it; see what you think. My apologies to the military out there. My ignorance of proper military procedure is total; if I offend, it is absolutely unintentional.

Paula Higgins

Commodore Ross sighed and gazed mournfully at the huge stack of papers still awaiting his attention. The hour was late, and he was tired. However, he decided, he had enough energy left to deal with one more piece of paper - but he was extremely grateful to be interrupted by a knock at his door. Calling out "Enter!" to his rescuer, Ross waited to see who this mysterious late-night visitor might be. When the tall figure of Lieutenant Hawkes appeared in the doorway, the mystery only deepened. "Why is Hawkes coming to me," Ross wondered, "instead of McQueen?"

Motioning Cooper to a chair, Ross asked "What can I do for you, son?"

Hawkes took a deep breath, squirmed a little in his seat, and replied, "Sir, we were all talking just now, and someone said that you and Colonel McQueen had been friends for a long time. I was hoping ... if you wouldn't mind telling me ... when did you first meet?"

Ross leaned back in his chair and smiled, "I don't mind, son. It was not an occasion I could easily forget. Did McQueen ever tell you that he was an A.I. prisoner of war?" When Hawkes nodded, Ross continued, "Who do you think liberated him from that POW camp?"

That certainly got the boy's undivided attention. Ross settled more comfortably in his chair and began relating one of his favorite stories. "I was still a Navy SEAL back then, and my squad was ordered on a predawn raid of one of the smaller camps. We managed to get in undetected, but then all hell broke loose and we were pinned down by enemy fire. I can still remember thinking: 'Real smooth, Ross, attack a prisoner of war camp so you can be captured as a POW. Smart, real smart.' And then someone started a counterattack in one of the main buildings. It drew away half of the silicate force, and we were able to overwhelm the remaining A.I.s."

Ross looked over at Hawkes and saw that Cooper was smiling. The boy had already figured out where this story was heading. Ross just shook his head and said, "I had a hard time convincing myself that some POW had managed to locate a weapon and then summon enough strength to fight back. I'd seen the inside of a camp before - you can smell the fear, the self-loathing, the defeat. It's full of walking dead men, men who have been broken, men who no longer care about anything."

That wiped the smile off Cooper's face. Ross continued, "While the rest of the squad started a sweep through the area, I went off looking for whoever it was that had saved my sorry butt. I eased around a corner and found myself staring directly down the barrel of a rifle. When I looked at who was holding the rifle ..." Ross shook his head again, "I have never seen anyone in such sorry shape - there wasn't an inch of skin showing that wasn't bruised, burned or bloody. The only clean thing about him were those eyes of his staring at me - staring blue murder. I knew that if I couldn't find the right words to reach him, I would be dead in a matter of seconds. I think I said something like 'Whoa, son, I'm on your side.' To which our Colonel replied in this half-dead, exhausted voice, 'I'm a tank -- you're not.' So that's when I said, 'I don't care where your navel is, son; I'm just glad you have one!"

Ross laughed, then, and said, "Lucky for me, McQueen has a sense of humor. He lowered his rifle, but I'm still not sure if it was because he'd decided I was a 'friendly' or because he was about to pass out. About that time, McQueen's C.O. comes strolling around the corner and congratulates me for helping to free his men.
The man doesn't have a mark on him; he's smiling; his clothes are clean; he hasn't missed a meal in weeks. He turns to McQueen and tells him to help carry the wounded to the transports - which pissed me off severely since I doubted if anyone was hurt worse than McQueen. I tell the damned fool that the fight this Marine put up was instrumental in turning the tide of battle - to which he replied that 'Yes, McQueen was very handy to have around.' So then, I asked if I could borrow his man to help clean out any pockets of resistance. The damned fool says 'Of course, of course. Do what you think best.' And then he turns around and wanders off. I grabbed McQueen's rifle, threw my arm around his shoulders and
headed off to the nearest medic."

Hawkes looked up in surprise, "Medic?"

Ross smiled and said, "Yes, son, I admit I lied to that ... person. I simply wanted to get McQueen some prompt medical treatment from someone I could trust, and I did not want to have to argue with that damned fool. About halfway there, McQueen starts laughing so hard he can barely walk, and I'm afraid the shock and
stress have finally gotten to him. Then he points out that what I want to do to his C.O. is anatomically impossible - and that's when I realized I'd been muttering under my breath the whole way." Hawkes broke into laughter and relaxed, while Ross finished his story. "We kept in touch and even served together in a couple of
places. And when I was given the Saratoga, I was glad to find that McQueen was already on board. It's been an interesting collaboration - to say the least."

"Thank you, sir," Cooper said, "I knew that first meeting must have been special; but - whatever happened to that officer, anyway?"

Ross gave a half-smile and said, "He retired shortly after that - the horrific experience he went through weakened his ... delicate constitution. I myself find it interesting that all of McQueen's C.O.s either become generals or retire due to poor health."

Hawkes just rolled his eyes and prudently kept his comments to himself. Ross waited patiently; he was certain that sooner or later the boy would ask the question that had brought him here instead of to McQueen.

Cooper fidgeted in his chair and then looked at the floor. "Sir, do you think ... could I ask you another question?"

"Of course," Ross replied, "ask away."

Hawkes swallowed a painfully large lump in his throat and then managed to ask, "Does it feel any different - the friendship you have with the Colonel and the friendship you have with natural-borns? I mean ... does it make any difference to you - that he's a tank?"

Ross gave Hawkes a quizzical look and then was forced to confess, "Son, half the time I even forget that McQueen IS an In Vitro. So I can honestly state that I don't feel any different toward him than I do my other friends."

Ross knew how important Hawkes was to McQueen, and he decided Ty wouldn't mind if he told the boy the whole truth. "In fact," he continued, "I can safely say that I have no friend who is closer to me than McQueen. We are blood brothers after all." Ross could tell that Hawkes' sketchy education was failing him again - the boy
looked totally confused at the unfamiliar term. Ross turned his arm to the light and traced the faint line that ran across the inside of his wrist. "Look," he said, "if you were to check, you would discover that McQueen has a scar identical to this one. It's an old Comanche custom - when two warriors have fought many battles together and seen much bloodshed; when they trust one another totally and depend on one another absolutely - they commemorate that bond with a special ceremony."

While he was describing the tradition to Hawkes, he watched the wide range of emotions flickering across the boy's face - amazement, a touch of envy, pride, joy, and finally - determination. Well, in Ross's humble opinion, Hawkes could find no better role model than McQueen - to use the Colonel as a guide would give his life a very firm foundation. "And then they clasp their arms so that the blood from both wounds mixes and mingles and some of it drops to the ground as a blessing. The bond between blood brothers is very strong; only dishonor can break it." Hawkes just shook his head and said, "Well, that's something you'll never have to worry
about, anyway."

Ross smiled in agreement and then relaxed. He knew that this was what had brought Hawkes to him so late at night - a desperate need for affirmation that the comradeship the boy had with the 58th was not some temporary aberration. Suddenly he yawned. "Come on, it's late - I don't want to have your C.O. yelling at me because I've kept you up past your bedtime!"

Hawkes laughed, and together the two men left the room. The Commodore smiled as he watched the young man amble sleepily toward his bunk. And then he looked at the scar on his wrist and smiled again at the memories imprinted here.

The End

The second book of this series is also avaliable at this site.

Next : Bonding with a Junkyard Dog

Paula Higgins
© 1996