DISCLAIMER: The universe of Space: Above and Beyond, including all characters with the exception of Colonel Richard Ellis, is the property of James Wong, Glen Morgan and Hard Eight Productions. Borrowed with all my love and admiration for their outstanding work and creativity, but nonethe- less without their permission. No copyright infringement intended. Colonel Richard Ellis is mine.
Author's note: They say, healing starts with crying and remembering the bad times, so that you can later go and focus on the good ones. I'm trying to do my own healing with the FIVE RINGS on McQueen's part - but there are others hurting as he is... This piece is just a scene, taking place right after *Tell Our Moms...* I wrote back in June trying to cope with the aftershocks of the last episode...and I didn't want to end the old year, leaving good Ol' Paul unburied...Rest in peace, Paul, I will always remember you...
Comments are appreciated - as always - and may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Tucker Smallwood.
The Last Post
Onboard the *USS Saratoga*
Commodore Glen Van Ross wasn't focussing on his reflection in the mirror as he should have to straighten out his tie - he was just staring at his own eyes, but he didn't see them. He didn't notice anything.....his thoughts had come to a complete halt, his mind seemed to be empty...nothing moving...not a thought...not an emotion...not a part of his body. He just stood there - and stared. He flinched involun- tarily when someone knocked on his hatch. He took a second to recompose himself and return to reality, then he answered.
"Who is that?"
"Lieutenant West, Sir!"
Ross took a deep breath. A Wild Card. *One of the remaining few...* he reminded himself painfully.
The lieutenant entered and stood to attention. Ross wanted to motion him to a chair but the young man refused the offer. Obviously he didn't feel like relaxing. In fact, he even stiffened. So, Ross took a seat, a questioning look in his eyes. Lieutenant West softly cleared his throat before he spoke.
"Sir - I know this is not the usual burial procedure -" the young man had begun, "- but could this text be read in honor of Lt. Wang ? It has a special meaning to us of the 58th Squadron as a team - and we.....Lt. Hawkes and I.....we think Lt. Wang would have appreciated it."
He handed the commodore a piece of paper. Ross gently unfolded it. He had seen a slight wincing on West's face when he had mentioned the 58th as a *team* - of course, they were missing several team mates, Lieutenant Wang dead, Captain Vansen and Lt. Damphousse, who were still unaccounted for. And - of course - Lt. Colonel T.C. McQueen, their impressive CO who was on his way to Earth - badly wounded. It should have been Ty's duty to handle the funeral service for this member of the 58th. For any member of the `WildCards'. The squadron he had made the best there was. And now, that this squadron had lost one of its finest officers, this young - but war-ragged old - man had obviously stepped in to take the colonel's place for this ceremony. But it showed that he took it hard. Ross glanced on the paper.
Lieutenant West's face had looked expressionless but the ongoing play of jaw muscles had told Ross that this man was trying hard not to let his feelings show on the outside. His voice had been calm as well - nonetheless, the commodore had been able to recognize some strong and barely controlled emotions behind it - and surprisingly most of them had seemed to be angry ones.
While he was reading the lines, the expression of the Saratoga's commander sadened distinctively. Well, of course, Ross knew exactly from who those lines came from and what they meant to the `Cards. And what they meant under these circumstances. He swallowed hard and felt tears forcing their way into his eyes. He took another deep breath and then raised his head to meet West's glance. After a short moment of looking at each other - exchanging words that didn't have to be said aloud - he nodded slightly.
"I'll see to it myself, Lieutenant."
Gratitude and a faint smile appeared in West's eyes.
"Thank you, Sir.....Thank you very much."
Ross released him with a nod and the lieutenant left - leaving the commodore alone, with that paper in his hand ... He sat motion- less for some moment. This didn't seem to be just another funeral, as there had been too many over the last months. But today it was more like burying a family member, not just burying Paul Wang, but the whole 58th and McQueen. The future of the squadron was still uncertain. Even though the Marines had already appointed a new CO to the 58th, Colonel Richard Ellis, it was still a possibility that the remaining Wild Cards might simply be dissolved and assigned to other squadrons.... Just like McQueen was after the loss of the Angry Angels. He knew it was not in his hands but if there was something he could do to avoid that he'd do it because the 58th was McQueen's biggest love and greatest heritage - and his family. And since Ty wasn't there any longer to look after his kids, Ross had decided to substitute for him - as far as he could.
It was time to go. The funeral service was scheduled to begin in five minutes. So, he stood and straightened out his uniform and tie, grabbed the piece of paper and left his quarters for the loading bay.
While he walked down the corridors, Ross couldn't help it but his thoughts kept wandering back to his closest friend. Ty would have liked West's idea of that text being read for Lieutenant Wang. The commodore knew that those lines had come from McQueen and what they meant to the 'Cards. And what they meant under these circum- stances.
The colonel had told him about that Kamikaze pilot on several occasions, and each time Ross had noticed this certain kind of yearning in the colonel's voice as if he was desperately longing to do something similarly honorable. The last time Ty had mentioned those lines had been after he had luckily returned from that suicide mission to Kazbek with the 58th. They had been sitting in the commander's cabin, with some Scotch and Rum to sooth the mood and loosen the tongue and McQueen had told him about his disappointment in the mission.....but Ross had also known that the InVitro - without saying it out loud - was bursting with pride he felt for those kids. That they had volunteered. That they had been ready to give their lives for the greater and just cause that Kamikaze pilot had written about. For a cause McQueen believed in - and that they believed in it as well. The commodore remembered the ambivalent expression on the pale face. McQueen had in fact seemed to be a little disappointed about not having died foolishly...like that pilot in WW II....but finally the pride in his kids came out ahead...
And now Wang had died in an act of courage and honor, staying behind to save the colonists, knowingly sacrificing his life. Yeah, the lines fitted the moment...and they reminded everyone of who had made the 58th such honorable Marines...Their colonel would be pretty proud of them...It gave him that pain in his heart that Ty wouldn't be there to attend...
"ATTEN-HUT! Commander on deck!"
Everyone in the loading bay snapped to attention at the order of Colonel Richard Ellis. Before Ross took his place next to the casket, he exchanged a few quiet words with the chaplain who nodded in return.
After a moment of silence, the chaplain spoke.
"Tonight, we have gathered to commemorate the life and memory of First Lieutenant Paul Wang of the 58th who's death was not in vain and who's memory will stay with us forever. We honor his request for this special burial. Let us pray."
Like the others, Glenn Van Ross lowered his head but nonetheless he was able to catch a glimpse of Lieutenants West and Hawkes out of the corner of his eye. West's expression seemed frozen throughout the whole ceremony, only his eyes - on the verge of tears - telling of his emotions. Lt. Hawkes was a different case.
Even now - in praying position - his whole body and face were yelling out his despair, the pain, the lack of understanding of the situation, his fear. Yes, his fear was the most staggering emotion Ross noticed. He felt for the young In Vitro - knowing that the colonel took a special place in his heart and mind - as Hawkes did in McQueen's. But now he was alone - his 'father' wounded and sent away, his 'sisters', Vansen and Damphousse, MIA and probably dead. One of his 'brothers' dead and about to be buried - only his 'brother' Nathan was still here - still with him, still taking care of him.
*Losing four out of five people you consider some kind of family - the only family you might ever have - would be already hard to take to a natural born...but for that six-year-old kid....Poor boy...*, the commodore sighed to himself.
Hawkes' face looked like the young lieutenant could turn and run away any moment...run...just run to escape the pain that had to be nearly unbearable for the young chap. McQueen was experienced with losing people and even he usually was at a loss of how to cope with it....but Cooper Hawkes never had gotten so close before - to anyone - and now he had lost four important persons...on the same day. Yeah, he had to be scared...And no colonel around to reassure him that it was ok to be scared...
Ross had trouble concentrating on the words of the chaplain. He wished this would be over soon...it was even more depressing than usual...McQueen was lacking...He simply wasn't here...The commodore found it astounding how much he seemed to have relied on the colonel's presence...Slightly shaking his head to shake off those thoughts, he recomposed himself and listened again.
"Oh Lord, we comment to Thee the soul of Thy servant that having departed this world may now live with Thee. In all Thy merciful love, please wash away the sins he might have committed in the conduct of his life and welcome him in Thy paradise. Amen."
Then the commodore raised his voice and recited with a clear and solemn voice:
" *With my mission now at hand - my dear old town, my dear old people - I now abandon everything and leave to protect this country. To protect our eternal and just cause, I now go forth. My body will collapse like a fallen cherry blossom, but my soul will live and protect this land forever. Farewell! Like a glorious wild cherry blossom, I shall return to my mother's place and bloom.* "
Moving back to attention, everyone listened to the triple salvos being fired by one of the Saratoga's towers. And when they saluted and watched the casket being released into space, a single trumpet accompanied First Lieutenant Paul Wang of the 58th Squadron, USMC, on his last voyage.
© Susi Patzke 6/24/96