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

The Ripken was in deep serious. Her crew had been sent on a routine mission to investigate reports of pirates preying on commercial transports in the area. Unfortunately, the reports were not only true, but the pirates had the Ripken outmanned and outgunned. A fleeting wish for air cover distracted Ross from the business at hand, but, with a shrug and a "if wishes were horses ..." he turned back to the battle.

It would truly be a sorry sight on his service record if he lost the very first ship he had ever been given to command. However, as if in answer to his half-muttered plea, the sailor manning the LIDAR looked over to Ross and said, "Sir - we have Hammerheads coming this way!"

Ross headed over to the screen and asked, "Are they friendly?"

The sailor grinned and replied, "They're Marines, sir - do they qualify as friendly?"

Ross sent a thank-you prayer to the Saint who looks after fools and newly-minted Naval Captains and concentrated his attention on persuading the pirates to cease and desist. The next few moments were hectic, but, as usual, Ross found that time seemed to slow down for him during battle. He was grateful for the phenomenon; it helped him to process all the reports being thrown at him - to weigh alternatives and choose possible strategies.

Once again the sailor on the LIDAR claimed his attention. "Sir, one of the pilots is in trouble. He's off by himself - I don't think the other Marines see him."

Ross hollered over to the gunnery sergeant, "Gunny - clear some of the space around that Hammerhead!"

"Yes, sir! Should I part his hair for him, sir?"

"No, thank you, Gunny," Ross replied with one of his looks, "He'll be jittery enough when we start firing near him - let's not get too close."

"Man," Gunny whispered to himself, "This guy can really fly! It will be a pleasure to give him an assist."

Suddenly, the fighting was over - as quickly as it had started. The pirates slipped away, clearly hoping that "living to fight another day" would be a viable option for them. Ross knew better; he knew that the Navy would come back and clean this nest out permanently. At the moment, however, he was content to let matters lie. When the Marine captain came on the radio, Ross sent him a personal thank-you for all their help. "And when we get back to base, I'll owe every last one of you a drink."

The captain laughed and replied, "I'll hold you to that, sir - the 63rd is always thirsty."

Being a man of his word, Ross headed for the bar at the very first opportunity. Sure enough, the 63rd was in residence, and Ross waved for a round for his saviors and started thanking them all individually. It was one of the many reasons that Ross' people always gave him 110 percent - his interest in everyone around him was genuine, and his warmth and charm were straight from the heart.

In the midst of all this chaos, Ross spotted a familiar figure standing to one side. "MCQUEEN!" Ross shouted, "When the hell did you get in?" Ross reached over and gave his friend a huge bear hug. "You're looking good, son. It's been way too long. What squadron are you with, now?"

McQueen quietly replied, "I'm with the 63rd."

The plane on the LIDAR, off to one side, fighting alone. McQueen in the bar, off to one side, standing alone. The explosion on Ross' face when the two pictures collided in his mind was awesome to behold. Damn them! The squadron had known McQueen was in trouble, and they still hadn't bothered to come to his aid - because of what he was. Damn them to hell. The C.O. of the 63rd obviously had an aversion to tanks, and he evidently wasted no energy trying to help a token IV officer - even when the man's life was in jeopardy. Well, Ross was determined to do his level best to stop this sort of behavior - here and now. In a deceptively gentle voice, Ross asked, "Captain Slater, may I speak to you for a moment - in private?"

McQueen felt no pleasure as he watched his C.O. get his butt chewed out by an expert. But ... happiness? Was this happiness he was feeling? Because he had a friend who would look out for his interests - who would stand up for him even if no one else would? A friend he could talk to about anything. A friend he felt comfortable with - even during long pauses in the conversation. Happiness - if that's what this was, then it sure felt great.

However, when he looked around the table, all he encountered was embarrassed silence. Everyone was staring very hard into their beer - avoiding at all costs the corner of the room where their commanding officer stood with his back to the wall. McQueen decided to take on an unaccustomed central role in the proceedings and try to divert his squad's attention to other channels. The recent battle gave him the perfect opening. "Woodie - how did you manage to shake those two bandits? They were right on your tail."

Woodie - more than grateful for the distraction - began enthusiastically describing his cunning maneuver, accompanied with much arm-waving and gestures. He was a pilot, after all - which meant he was incapable of describing anything with words alone. The rest of the group relaxed and were soon absorbed in a blow-by-blow description of their encounters with the enemy. The camaraderie engendered by the joking and laughter gave Woodie the courage to ask the question that was on everyone's mind, "McQueen, how long have you known Captain Ross?"

Ty counted up the elapsed time and replied, "Three years. Ross was the one who got me out of that A.I. POW camp." This brought a temporary silence as the rest of the group realized they hadn't even known that McQueen had been a prisoner of war. McQ slanted an uneasy glance at the 'conference' still going on by the far wall. Ross was still doing most of the talking. Ty didn't know his C.O. very well yet; he hoped Slater wasn't one of those petty souls who would make his life miserable because of the grief Ross was giving him.

Ross had the same thought at about the same time. Sometimes the voice of sweet reason was more effective than beating a man over the head with a stick - although the exercise was certainly making HIM feel better. Instead, he shifted gears, "Captain Slater, T.C. McQueen is one of the finest men I know. I value his friendship; I admire his intelligence; and I am awestruck by his courage. But when you look at him all you see is a "Tank" - you've never taken the time to look into the man's soul. And that is your loss, son - not his."

Suddenly, Ross' eyes began to sparkle, "I tell you what, Slater, I dare you to prove me wrong - get to know McQueen and decide for yourself if my opinion of him is flawed. I dare you."

"But, sir ..."

"In fact, I double-dog dare you!" Ross smiled to show that he had managed to work off most of his anger, and looked over at McQueen. "Ty - have you eaten yet?"

"No, sir."

"Then let's get going." McQueen looked over to Slater for his permission, which was given with a relieved nod. Slater was grateful that his skin was still intact - and smart enough to realize that Ross was probably right about McQueen. He was going to have to do some serious thinking.

Meanwhile, Ross was doing some serious thinking of his own. He knew he'd managed to half-way convince Slater to revise his opinion of McQueen, but he was still worried about the future. Ross knew he wouldn't always be around to straighten out people's twisted notions of In Vitros. He decided that, until McQueen could stand on his own two feet, Ty would need a mentor - someone who would be able to keep a protective watch over the young man.

At that point in his cogitation, a name popped into his head - Frank Waverly. The Marine Colonel would be the perfect solution to his dilemma. Instead of sitting down at the table with his tray of food, he muttered a brief, "Back in a sec" to McQueen and headed off to the nearest phone. Walking down the street later, he "suddenly" remembered that he'd wanted to see a friend of his. "Do you mind if we stop in here for a minute, Ty?" McQueen, of course, started making noises about going on back to the barracks, but Ross wasn't having any of it. That would ruin his beautiful plan.

A decidedly uncomfortable McQueen was dragged down the walk toward an imposing house surrounded by trees. When Waverly himself opened the door, it took a effort of will on Ty's part to keep from bolting back towards the street. Frank smiled at Ross, gave a friendly nod to McQueen and welcomed them in. Ty took a deep breath and followed the two men into a nearby room. But he stopped dead in his tracks the minute he crossed the threshold.

Books. Books were everywhere. No matter where he turned his head, he saw books. Every inch of wall space was covered in shelves that were crowded with books - the room even had ladders scattered around so you could reach the topmost shelves! Every table and every chair - even the window seats - had piles of books. McQueen had never seen a room like this in his life. Not even the base library came close - it was mostly computerized, anyway, with a few tattered paperbacks for "recreational" reading.

But this place had real books. All sorts of books - on history, philosophy, organizational dynamics, military strategy, Eastern religion. You could smell the ink, feel the crispness of the paper, hear the crackling as the pages turned. It was a sensuous experience that the diskette version couldn't even begin to duplicate. By this time, McQueen was hunkered down on the floor beside a freshly opened carton of brand-new books, oblivious to the other two occupants of the room. Ross and Waverly smiled at the earnest young scholar and drifted over to two easy chairs in the corner.

"All right, Glen, explain to me exactly what happened. You weren't very clear on the phone." Ross gave Waverly a precise summary of current events, trying with some success to keep the anger out of his voice. Frank's first response to Ross' story was surprising, "You do take your responsibilities seriously, don't you?"

Ross just shrugged, "I can't help it. I had to expend a lot of time and a lot of energy to get McQueen out of that POW camp. I just don't want all that effort wasted, and it will be if he gets his fool head blown off."

Frank just looked at his friend and said nothing. "All right, all right. I like the boy; he interests me ... and I trust him," Glen admitted.

Waverly asked curiously, "You keep calling him a boy, but ..." Ross nodded, "I know. He's got a man-size body, and he's doing a man-size job, but, in many ways, ... he's still a boy."

Frank agreed to this statement thoughtfully, "What do you want me to do - just keep a eye on him?"

"He's so alone, Frank. I worry about him. He needs someone - someone besides me - to turn to whenever he needs help or ... even practical advice. I'd like word to spread that he's got friends in high places. A few idiots might get jealous, but that's a chance I'm willing to take. I just ... there's so much potential there, Frank. I just want to give him every opportunity to prove himself, that's all." Ross glanced over at McQueen, "What in blazes is he so engrossed in, anyway?"

Frank peered at the cover of the book, "I think it's a book on Zen and swordsmanship."

Ross' booming laughter filled the room. "Zen and what?! Hell, Frank, now I know I've brought him to the right place. Will you help?" Waverly noticed that McQueen's concentration had been broken and that he was slowly awakening from whatever world he'd been wandering around in. Ty also looked decidedly guilty. He was a little hazy as to what had happened since he came into the room, but he had the uneasy suspicion that he had not acted in the proper military manner.

Waverly motioned McQueen to join them, "Come over here, son, and sit."

"Yes, sir." Still clutching the book in his hands, Ty perched on the edge of a nearby footstool.

"Now listen to me carefully, McQueen. Do you see that table over there by the door?"

"Yes, sir. I do, sir."

"Ross and I believe you should be reading more than just the books on your required list. So what I'll be doing is placing books on that table that I want you to read. My front door is always open, so you're welcome to come in here and retrieve those books any time - day or night. You can either read them here or take them back to your quarters. Keep them as long as you like, but, remember, there will always be more here waiting for you."

McQueen sat there absolutely speechless - too stunned to reply. Fortunately, his body language spoke volumes. Those remarkable eyes positively glowed, and his face looked lit from within. He managed to stutter a "Th...thank you, sir" and send Ross a look compounded of utter gratitude and incredulous disbelief. Then a horrifying thought occurred to him, "But, sir, what if something should happen ..."

Waverly smiled, "My boy, all these books can be easily replaced. Their sole purpose in life, after all, is to share the information they contain. They do no good to anyone sitting safely on a shelf. I want you to read them, study them, absorb their knowledge and insight. And for heaven's sakes - enjoy them and don't fret about dropping them in mud puddles."

As McQueen once again tried to express his feelings on the subject, Ross and Waverly exchanged smiles. Yes, Frank would look after Glen's young wolfhound. It would be interesting to see what this one grew up into. Frank decided that McQueen was going to surprise the hell out of more than a few people in the coming years. This was going to be fun!

The End

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

Next : Adrift in a Sea of Memories

Paula Higgins
© 1996