Chapter 19 - Colette

Kylen went to the gym and caught up with Amy and McQueen and the Balance Master. It looked like a V.R. deck but the circular floor moved and dipped up to 35 degrees. McQueen and Amy were both obviously deep in concentration. Kylen sat out of the way so as not to distract either.

While she watched, Kylen thought of her conversation with Steinbeck; what he had said about McQueen and what he had said about fear. Kylen remembered something that she had read a lifetime ago: 'A door slamming makes one jump but it doesn't make one afraid. What one fears is the serpent that crawls underneath it.' There are just too many damn serpents, she thought. Steinbeck had spoken of feeling disconnected and not fitting in. She wondered if Steinbeck knew how close he had come to the mark. To her mark. She had felt and continued to feel like a guest in her father's home - her home. And before too long she would have to do something. Something that resembled 'real life.' A job. A place to live. A way to define her dreams. Soon. Kylen toyed with the idea of setting a date; of giving herself a specific goal. She wasn't sure, though, if she could meet any goal yet. Getting laundry done was hard enough. Kylen wasn't sure if she had the energy or concentration needed to reach any goal. She knew that her reserves were still at a low ebb and she wasn't sure if further examination of her feelings would give her any more answers than she already had. Kylen certainly didn't believe that it would give her more energy.

When it came to facing her demons, Kylen didn't totally agree with Steinbeck. She and McQueen were more of the same mind. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes the greater is their power to harm us, she thought. It seemed that there were people who liked to hang onto their angst. Some of the survivors bathed in it. You had to decide to live or to let go - foam on the ocean. And if you decided to live then you had to go about doing it. Face down your demons - don't take them to dinner. Kylen no longer wanted to be 'in expectation of living.' She remembered McQueen telling her: 'I didn't say that it was easy. I just said that it was what I thought you should try to do.'

Kylen watched him work and wondered what was going on in his mind. McQueen had never answered her question. She wasn't sure what kept him going, but he seemed to her to be a man who needed little other than himself - his own beliefs, his own sense of self - his own honor. A man who could and would deny himself what he loved the most. Kylen wondered what he would do now - after the injury. McQueen and the Marine Corps. Where would all those beliefs, that honor, that self go?

Kylen knew that, as an InVitro, McQueen's life had most probably always been highly structured; no matter in the mines or in the military. And the Marine Corps was certainly a highly defined culture unto itself. She felt that McQueen was probably one of those people who craved structure in their lives. Kylen's brother, Connor, was such a one. "A place for everything and everything in it's place." And it was more than just his belongings. Connor was organized and disciplined in all areas of his life. He functioned better within a pattern and he had become a construction engineer. If there was no pattern Connor would make one.

No, McQueen had gotten at least one piece of luck in his life, she thought. His was a character that found a sense of freedom within a discipline. It was like a turtle and it's shell. The turtle lives inside it's shell and is given life by the it. The shell is 'armor, plumage, camouflage, and refuge.' It is home. The shell is both the method of attack and defense. Kylen knew instantly that most people would not understand the analogy and may even think it demeaning. Many would think of the shell as a facade or something to hide within. But the carapace not only defines the animal but is its essence. To demean would be to deny the miracle and perfection of design. Some things can't be separated. Some things were meant to fit into place.

The system had given him the tools to construct his life from traits received through the design of capricious and anonymous technicians; propeller heads who had relieved their boredom by adding genes for absolute pitch and astonishing blue eyes. The system had provided a space for McQueen's remarkable character to be formed and within the system he had achieved remarkable things.

Why would he ever want to be separated from the Corps? Had he ever even thought of it? Why would he ever consider it? Kylen speculated.

"Keep your eyes open," Amy ordered. Kylen jerked her head and opened her eyes; which she hadn't even realized that she had closed during her musings. It was like getting caught sleeping in class. But it was not to Kylen that Amy had spoken; it had been McQueen. "Wait until you get better at this then you can close your eyes. Find your focus," Amy finished.

Kylen supposed that she had answered a portion of 'The McQueen Question' for herself. The external, comparatively simple, part of Steinbeck's rehabilitation - The concrete "something." McQueen has long ago chosen to wrap his life in scarlet and gold. As his friend, her 'job,' if you will, would be to help him achieve that again. Kylen gazed absently at McQueen. He had become almost an abstraction in her thoughts. She let her mind float as she took in the sight; McQueen working to bend and compensate, attempting to adjust to the shifting floor beneath his feet.

She thought that the quote about the tortoise that she couldn't quite recall was from a book she had read about Colette. Kylen's mind wandered. Had McQueen ever read Colette? Not a chance in hell. She smiled inside - to herself. It was a priceless image, though. Oh well, we can't be expected to always hit on the same cylinders.

Kylen had been thirteen when she had discovered the play and then the movie versions of 'Gigi.' She had loved it then and she loved it still. How she had loved the romance, the music and the costumes. How she had wanted to be able to drink Champagne and dance around the living room. As an adult it had become Kylen's favorite drink and she hadn't tasted it in almost two years. Kylen remembered, rather to her surprise, that Champagne still existed. She smiled. If it existed than she probably did as well.

McQueen had been aware of Kylen; had seen her enter and sit, silent and respectful. He could only wonder what had created the cryptic smile on her face. McQueen shifted his gaze back to his selected focus point on the wall. Kylen slipped from his consciousness as he concentrated on the task at hand.

Kylen drew her legs up and hugged her knees - looking at, but no longer seeing, the exercise before her. She thought of her childhood, her adolescence, her road to discovery. It amazed her how a single flash, a glimpse of a half formed memory could transport a person. A smell, a sound, a song. It sounded a bit ridiculous, she knew, but one of the hardest things for her to deal with - something that had really almost pushed several of the POWs over the edge - was the AIs repeating OKLAHOMA incessantly. That and good poetry and bad television shows. They had used the memories - these flashes of comfort - as weapons against the survivors. Kylen had remembered her father singing 'Oh what a Beautiful Morning' in the milking parlor first thing in the morning. You could hear him singing it if you walked across the paddock. Loud and full and audible even in the winter with the windows closed. The Silicates had forever tainted that memory of her childhood. Like pouring poison into a well, that source of comfort was taken from her forever. Kylen was only just beginning to comprehend the subtlety of some of the tortures the AIs had devised.

Kylen had actually prayed, really prayed, that the Elroy and Brandon units didn't know My Fair Lady, Gigi, or Take 10 and Celebrate. And those two units had disappeared shortly after she had seen Nathan and the rest of the marines. A lot of the units had disappeared but the POWs weren't rescued and the games went on.

The Colonists hadn't been systematically starved like the Japanese had starved the European civilians during World War II, but they never had known when the next meal was coming. Sometimes food arrived in the middle of the night forcing them to eat in that smothering blackness. Her two broken fingers had been ignored and she had once been made to beg for a hot needle to relieve the pressure of blood collecting under one of her fingernails. The Felicity unit had held a weapon on Kylen and had watched the minor surgery, making jokes. But, conversely, Kylen remembered having fallen after about ten months in the mines. She had hit her head and had awakened alone in a cell with a bandage and her jumpsuit had been cleaned. People had been singled out for special treatment - often repellent and sometimes good - extra food or a blanket or a day of rest. The Silicates had tried to destroy their memories and their unity.

Kylen remembered Colette's diary. "I should indeed like....
                        1. to begin again
                        2. to begin again
                        3. to begin again."

McQueen's voice bordering on rudeness cut into her thoughts. "Just what are you staring at?" The balance session was over.

Kylen was brought back suddenly and fumbled a bit for her words. "What? Oh, It wasn't you......I wasn't staring at you.....I was just thinking......I apologise....Was I staring?" She had an idea. A way to begin. She stood. "I want lobsta' (Kylen pronounced it in the tried and true New England fashion). I want a big lobsta' dinna' and I want melted butter to drip down my chin. Have you ever had real New England lobster, Colonel?"

"I've had lobster." McQueen said rather defensively. "In South America, Haiti, Diego, Loxley. I wasn't born yesterday."

"No, Ty," Amy said. "You've had warm water lobster - langoustines. Yankees consider them serviceable but not the real thing. I don't know that you have ever had a real cold water lobster."

Kylen was on a roll. "Great. Amy, where is the best place to go? I know it's the off season but there has to be something open. We're going out to dinner tonight - the four of us. I'll make reservations." She didn't immediately catch the looks of concern on both McQueen and Amy.

Amy and McQueen exchanged meaningful looks. They shared separate but equally unpleasant memories. InVitros usually just didn't pick up and 'go out to dinner.' There were a few restaurants in the ghettos and around the various InVitro enclaves. But if one went outside those areas things could easily and often become unpleasant. You had to be sure you would be granted entrance - that you would be served. There had been more than one uncomfortable scene in restaurants during their brief marriage. Amy had become adept at making screening phone calls and visits prior to actually making plans. McQueen had finally just stopped going in order to spare Amy the hassle of it all.

"Another time, Celina." McQueen said as he got down from the machine and took up his cane.

Kylen caught the use of her surname and the tone of voice. She was being given an order. Kylen was supposed to drop the topic. She was frustrated.

"If not tonight ... Then tomorrow. Come on." She pleaded. "I've had enough....I want....I want to do what I want. It's time. We need to begin again." She sputtered softly.

Amy looked at McQueen and shrugged. Kylen finally caught onto their silent exchange and a beat later appreciated the reason. She wasn't about to be stymied so easily. "Amy, you told me that there were good people here. You said there were some very good people. Colonel McQueen has been on the national news and in the paper. He isn't a 'nobody.' Let's just find out. Can we at least do that?"

Amy looked at Kylen and choked back old resentments. Amy had vowed that she would never do it again - that she would never allow herself to be put in this position - juggling her life around the requirements of T.C. McQueen - but here she was. It was bound to happen, she supposed. Maybe it was a good thing. It was past time for her to begin again as well. This had focused the light on one of the reasons she hadn't been able to stay with Ty in the first place. One of the reasons. One of several. Amy wasn't interested in rekindling any flame but she had at least started to like him.

OK, one last time, she thought. I'll take Kylen through the drill. Then pass off the responsibility. We can't keep Ty hidden in The Barn forever. He isn't a runaway slave, after all. He is a decorated veteran. Amy had been astonished at McQueen's willingness to follow Dale's suggestions for the living arrangements. It had worried her. As uncomfortable as it might be for herself to go through the same old motions, it was time to start getting him out into the world so that they all could start over. Amy realized that she had never lost admiration for the man.

"She is right," Amy said to McQueen. "Its time. I know Dale has work in the lab to get done tonight - a new hand. Surgery is scheduled for Saturday. But, let's at least see what is available. You two can go. Kylen, this evening, before dinner, I'll show you how this is done."

Dale's house was generally calm in the evening with occasional bursts of laughter from Dale and Kylen who would often draw in the other two. It was one of the things Kylen loved the most about visiting - the relaxation of the evenings. It was like exhaling. But on this evening Dale had stayed at the lab and Kylen had made dinner for the others by herself. The tension in the household was palpable; under control, but Kylen was holding her breath. She had inadvertently set off a bomb in the makeshift household.

The professional, detached relationship that McQueen and Amy had studiously tried to cultivate had been rocked by her simple request: "Let's go out to dinner." Amy was withdrawn working at her terminal and McQueen, perhaps more taciturn than normal, perused Dale's wonderful library. Kylen moved back and forth between the two trying to gloss things over - to bring them out. She felt that if one would just bend a little the other would follow suit and the calm air would return to the house, but no one going to budge. Both separately refused her invitation to go to the pier.

Kylen had been ready to leave them both downstairs and retreat to the shower when Major Howard called to check in on her. She hadn't bothered to ask how he knew where she was. He probably knows the color of my underwear, She thought bitterly. It is the last straw. Too many serpents crawling under the doors. Kylen gave up and was out the door taking a care package to the lab for Dale.

Kylen entered the sanctum sanctorum with an air of obvious frustration. Dale smiled to himself. He could only picture the atmosphere over at The Barn.

"The big kids didn't want to play with you this evening? Beat you down did they?" Dale asked ruefully without looking up from his work. "Or did they freeze you out? Going out to dinner seemed like a good idea at the time, didn't it? Well, no good deed goes unpunished, my young friend."

"But.... Oh, they are just so ...... so ..." Kylen complained.

"Frustrating. Stubborn. Headstrong. Intransigent. Willful?" Dale offered his suggestions. "You are preaching to the choir here, Kylen. It was and is a good idea. Talk to the hand," he joked and held up the mechanical prosthetic he was fine tuning. It was a sick little joke but it made Kylen giggle.

"That's better. There is hope for you yet, my child," Dale said with mock gravity. "I smell garlic. Come, sit. What did you bring me?" Dale began to eat.

"I'm sorry I even brought it up," Kylen admitted. "You can't come with us and Amy won't."

"Nonsense, it is a perfectly good thing to do. I think that you may have the tendency to take other people's problems on as your own. They will work things out. Don't take on their problems, Kylen, and don't use theirs to hide from your own."

Dale could be an absolute tyrant about confidentiality at the Clinic. But Steinbeck adored people and loved to be involved in their lives. He hated gossip on moral grounds. But Kylen was now involved personally with both of the people in question. Without going too deeply into the specifics, which he didn't know anyway, Dale decided to give the newest member of the 'The Steinbeck Set' a little bit of the story. He couldn't help himself; he told stories almost as well as Kylen. Dale would relate 'The Tale':

"Amy and our Black Prince? That is a strange thing, I'll admit. The story, as I have been given to understand, is close to the following, at least from her side."

" - Amy, poor little rich girl, is tired of Main Line Frat Boys and political up-and-comers. It being an election year and all, with the AI rebellion winding down, she is out stumping with Daddy - who she loathed by the way, even then. But she is coming off of yet another unsatisfying attempt at a relationship and it is better than another dull summer at the shore. They are making the rounds of military bases. So she finds McQueen out in the back of beyond, at some base in Alabama, of all places. Amy took one look, saw what she felt she wanted and set her cap for the man. She was a real shark, and I've told her as much to her face. Poor McQueen; he didn't stand a chance. I'm given to understand their relationship was a real bodice ripper. A melt your fillings gothic romance. Le Grande Passion. Made all the more delicious by the fact that her father - the Honorable Senator - is well known for his Anti InVitro Rights position. Let your imagination run wild. If they could have left things there, they would probably have been fine. But Grande Passions being what they are, they were married within three months and Amy disinherited living on a military base on Hell's little half acre."

"Amy being the child of her parents then sets about doing the only thing she knows how to do. She has found the wounded, untamed, dynamic, Black Prince of her dreams so she immediately sets about trying to turn him into a Main Line Frat Boy. The Black Prince, being the child of no parents - the self made man of her dreams, doesn't take to heel and things rapidly deteriorate. (Don't let her kid you, she hates flying and anything to do with the Marine Corps.) She is a child of wealth and privilege, remember. (As the daughter of a Senator with his eyes on higher positions - physical therapy was supposed to be a 'community service' not a career.) Then the reality of being married to an InVitro starts to set in. I understand it was with an unpleasant and rather nasty thump. Her romantic notions got flushed."

"Romance can be a spellbinding part of love - breathtaking - but never confuse romance for love, Kylen. My Aunt once gave me a sage piece of advice. 'Never marry anyone until you have wallpapered a room together.' (You'll notice the distinct lack of wallpaper in The Barn, Mon doux.) Suffice it to say that Tyrus and Amy didn't do any wallpapering before they took the plunge. A little under eighteen months start to finish and it looks as if the mess is only just now, finally, almost cleaned up. 'It's not the tragedies of life that kill us. It's the mess.' "

"They are a decidedly civilized duo, don't you think? Polite and professional. But, I mean really, let it go already. She is family and I love her. And he is ...... Well, he is who he is. Good God, I hope they can both finally be done with tragique la petite affaire and move on. The only dead things one should hold onto are dried flowers - and those only for a season."

"I doubt that either one of them thought it was a 'little affair,' Kylen speculated, mildly.

"No, I doubt that either of them did, at that," Steinbeck admitted sadly as he put his arm around Kylen's shoulders.

"So, they were never really friends." Kylen realized it as she spoke.

"Oh, I think that they are starting. I think they'd like to be," Dale asserted. "But no. Not at the time. I don't think they even thought to like each other. It seems like a loss doesn't it?"

Kylen was now a bit uncomfortable talking about two people that she liked and chose to shift the mood.

"Besides, friendship gets you through times of no sex better than sex gets you through times of no friends," she confided to Dale who threw back his head and laughed. He found her to be very wise for her age. An old soul with a fresh outlook and he enjoyed her company.

"Tomorrow, Kylen, let me show you my garden. I have flowers for every season in my garden," and he went back to his work.

Chapter 20 - Voltaire

Kylen was slow to waken, having gone to bed with a relaxation tape containing the sounds of the ocean. Listening to the waves, she had slept surprisingly well. McQueen, on the other hand, was up bright and early ready to slip his traces and start to take control of his own recovery. Kylen is here. Let her make herself useful. 0630 it is. Everybody into the pool. It took him a while to get her moving at a speed he considered acceptable. He called her a 'slug' and she, in turn, called him a 'grind.' There was no way Kylen was leaving The Barn without her coffee, thank you very much, and in the future the least McQueen could do was to have coffee ready for her. Kylen was not a morning person. After the feathers had been smoothed, the morning went off without a hitch.

McQueen worked out in the pool while Kylen watched. They had breakfast. Amy worked McQueen on the Balance Master and the treadmill. The occupational therapist worked with him on fine motor movements of his new toes. There was lunch. During the afternoon, Kylen and McQueen went for a walk.

Kylen and McQueen had remarkably similar thoughts on the day, but were each affected differently by those thoughts. It had been companionable and purposeful. No drama. No anxiety. Nothing to prove. A job to be done. Pleasant company. Relaxed conversation. It was as if half forgotten doors were being opened. What Kylen and McQueen each found behind those doors was the same only different. Little doors of normalcy. A remembrance that life could be lived every day; a little bit at a time. A memory that life often was just the little bits strung together.

Dale Steinbeck knocked on the door and entered McQueen's room after receiving a terse "Enter." McQueen was buttoning his khaki shirt. He was dressing in the 'B' Service Uniform (acceptable attire for leave or liberty). Amy had selected his new kit wisely. Just a few things but well chosen.

"Well, I see that the women folk got everything arranged to their satisfaction," Dale spoke easily.

"I thought you had work to do in the lab," McQueen said, hoping that Dale's appearance now meant that Steinbeck would be able to attend Kylen's little dinner party.

"I do, but I thought I should let you know that I double checked their arrangements myself. As a matter of fact, Charlie, the owner, is a former patient. By the way, I dare you to identify what he has that is new. That said just to give you confidence in my work and the process. Charlie has a daughter in the Navy - down in Norfolk. And he was pleased to be of service to a decorated military man - regardless of his method of birth. Sorry, but I did give him a bit of your story." Dale held up his hand to ward off McQueen's withering look.

"Nothing that hasn't been shown on television, I assure you, Tyrus. Look, it is a public place so I can't make any guarantees but Charlie won't put up with any crap in his place. No, I'm actually here because I have another worry. I was almost out the door when it hit me." Dale flipped McQueen a sheet of sandpaper. "You'll need this for the bottom of those new shoes. Scuff them up good now. I don't want you to go slipping and sliding around the island. I do have a reputation to protect. Have a good time." He patted McQueen on the back and was gone.

McQueen turned and using his cane, negotiated his way to the chair, sat and scuffed up the bottoms of his shoes. Why didn't I just say no to all of this? Kylen had said it was a dinner 'to begin again.' Now what in the hell does that mean? He tied his tie (field scarf), pulled on the green sweater and was standing at his dresser checking the mirror to be sure he was squared away. The birds looked good on his shoulders. He began filling his pockets when the Bad Penny herself showed up at the door.

"Ready?" she asked. Kylen watched him take the knife off of the dresser and move to put it into his pocket. "Let me see," she said and crossed to him holding out her hand. McQueen gave her the knife. She weighed it in her palm and fingered it's graphite casing. "Show me," she said softly handing it back to him.

McQueen took the butterfly knife from her hand and with a deft move of his wrist snapped it open.

"Again," She urged.

McQueen couldn't even begin to understand the reason for her request, but it was of obvious importance to her and cost him nothing. He closed the knife then repeated the action. He held the knife open for a few seconds then closed it. Fascinated by her concentration, McQueen repeated the action a third time, unbidden. Kylen held out her hand for the weapon. His curiosity peeked, McQueen placed the closed blade in her palm where it rested like an offering.

"Teach me," she said staring into her hand.

McQueen again felt that 'frisson.' It was becoming familiar now. Kylen could say things - do things - that shocked him. Few people had that power. He tried to deflect her.

"It isn't strictly legal, Kylen," he said. I can think of at least four states where the knife itself is illegal. Then there are those states where it illegal for an InVitro to carry any weapon whatsoever.

"I understand," she said looking up to meet his eyes. "Teach me."

"It's not a skill you need to acquire, Kylen."

"I do," she said. "I don't want to feel like I'm defenseless again."

"You are home now. You don't need a knife." McQueen gently plucked the knife from her palm. "Most civilians are wounded or killed with their own weapons," he added as an after thought.

"I know. That's why I need a good teacher." Kylen said.

"I thought we were going to eat lobster to celebrate beginning again," McQueen said and pointedly put the knife into his pocket.

"We are. And I never want to feel like a victim ever again." Kylen was at her most reasonable.

McQueen composed his thoughts. He totally understood her feelings. It was why he carried the blade. But the thought of giving her a knife repelled him somehow. She needed to be involved with more enlightened pursuits. Kylen shouldn't have to stay forever in survival mode - mired in her fears. One should do nothing against one's conscience. McQueen wasn't even sure why, but it was strongly - very strongly - against his conscience to teach Kylen to knife fight. He would not aid what he felt was folly. As gently as he could possibly say it; for he knew that it would probably disappoint her, he gave her his final word.

"No. I can't do it. Not for you and not to you. Don't ask me to do this," he said looking away from her bracing for a wave of Kylen's accusation and disappointment to hit him. She surprised him.

Kylen gently place her hand on his arm. "That's all right Colonel. 'Slow and steady wins the race.'" McQueen was lost at that last statement. He could not follow her train.

"Don't give it another thought," Kylen said kindly. "Let's go to dinner."

Kylen had baffled McQueen yet again. He had disappointed her, of this he was sure, but her reaction had been to reach out and give him a comforting touch. He refused to consider the possibility that she was pulling a fast one on him and he was correct.

Kylen was disappointed and she might have been hurt but for the fact that McQueen's refusal had been so..... So ... tender. She lost herself in private thought for a moment while she tried to define what she had seen and heard.

It hit her. A memory from her childhood. I must have been eight or nine when Dad told me that Maxie, our dog, had been hit by a car. I remember it to this day. Not so much for the fact that Maxie had died but for how difficult it had been for Dad to tell me. That's what I really remember - the pain and concern on Dad's face ... in his voice. That my father had been afraid to tell me. I remember feeling that he was very brave to do something that frightened him so much. And I remember feeling that I could be strong for my Dad - that I could help him not be so sad and afraid. The ego of a child. I still remember that moment. McQueen had sounded like that - afraid to tell me something I wouldn't want to hear. Something that he felt would upset me. I wonder what he was really thinking - to sound so vulnerable, so fragile? Whatever you do, Kylen, never touch a butterfly's wing with your finger, she thought. If he can't teach me, I'll just find someone who will.

It was a hitch in her plan but not the end of it.

Charlie's was a neighborhood place - a bar and small restaurant about half full when they arrived. There was an interesting moment between McQueen and Kylen as they were seated. They both instinctively wanted the seat which would put their back to the wall and give them a clear view of both the door and the entrance to the bar - the escape routes. Kylen conceded and McQueen sat in the catbird seat. Charlie picked two lobsters out of his tank.

The dinner was excellent and the conversation covered many subjects. Kylen's desire to learn about Nathan and the rest of The Wildcards was insatiable and it was a subject that McQueen would open up to. Between Nathan's old letters to his parents, video disks and what McQueen had to tell her, Kylen felt she was getting a real picture of these people. She chose to share with him something that Nathan had said about him:

"Nathan wrote that you could be very tough sometimes, but that it was a good thing because it's the tough guys who lead the survivors." McQueen felt strangely humbled by the remark.

Kylen ate with what McQueen could only describe as pagan delight and melted butter did drip onto her chin. She had been disappointed that there was no champagne but the two made do with a few drafts. McQueen found himself counting how many Kylen drank. She had to be out of practice and she was the one driving. He didn't like having other people drive and McQueen had yet to take the reflex reaction test to be reissued his license. He had to admit to himself that he wasn't up to speed yet. They split a third lobster.

They talked about flying. McQueen's entire continence changed when he talked about flying. He obviously loved it and missed it more than he was willing to say.

"After five years underground, in the mines, flying had to be a revelation. A freedom beyond thought - beyond anything you had imagined, " Kylen said quietly. McQueen just gave her a smile. There was nothing he needed to say; she understood. He shared several aphorisms that amused Kylen. The old chestnut about there being "no old bold pilots." 'Flying isn't dangerous - crashing is dangerous.' 'The difference between God and a Fighter Pilot is that God doesn't think He is a Fighter Pilot' and the one that made her really laugh : 'Trust thrust.'

McQueen stood and tried to excuse himself - a head call. Kylen immediately stood to take his arm.

"Damn it, Celina. You are not walking me to the head," he hissed into her ear. It was a humiliation not to be borne.

"No, Sir. You are correct. I am not," Kylen said smoothly. "I am, however, going to assist you through that maze of tables and chairs into the bar where, since this was my treat, I will pay our bill. Here is your coat."

They negotiated their way around the tables and the handful of other patrons. Kylen placed her purse and keys on the bar, dropping her gloves in the process. McQueen bent and picked them up for her. When McQueen leaned down the navel on the back of his neck was clearly seen by Kylen and by at least one of the men seated at the bar.

"Thank you, Colonel," she said lightly but clearly enough for the people in the bar to hear. McQueen excused himself.

The man at the bar fidgeted. Kylen moved off slightly. Finally the man could not help himself any longer and he called Charlie Morgan over to the bar.

"Did you see that?" he asked softly.

"What?" Charlie replied in a tone of voice that signaled that he would brook no nonsense. Charlie was not an overt supporter of InVitro rights but neither was he, in any way shape or form, Anti InVitro rights. It just wasn't an issue that had ever touched his life - until this evening.

"That Marine. He's a Tank," the man whispered. Like most people, this man, Cal, did not consider himself a bigot. He would never be overtly rude or confrontational. His prejudices were well hidden - even from himself. He really didn't want to make a scene. He was far more surprised than indignant. InVitros were a distinct rarity in these parts. He would never say anything to McQueen but a Tank at Charlie's ? Well, it was rather like seeing a two headed calf walk into your neighborhood watering hole.

"And that Marine defends your right to say things like that, Cal. Watch yourself." Charlie said evenly. In Charlie's view Cal was a good enough man but a bit too Down East forthright for good company.

Kylen stepped forward, smiled kindly and rested her hand lightly on the man's arm. She chose to treat him as if he were a poor, not too bright, relation who had just realized that McQueen was the Pope.

"Whoever serves his country has no need of ancestors," she said simply but only loudly enough for the three to hear. There was no need to bring the whole bar in on the conversation.

Kylen turned to leave and almost ran into McQueen who had silently returned. It was obvious to her that he had heard at least part of the conversation. They left the restaurant in silence.

Kylen didn't ask him. She just drove to the pier; it was a place of calm to her. She parked the car but did not get out. She sat with McQueen in the dark, partially illuminated by the lights in the lot. Kylen could see McQueen's reflection in the windshield. He was watching her; waiting for her. She took several deep breaths then, calmed, she turned toward him. "I handled that badly didn't I?"

"Kylen, you always have to weigh things. You did pretty well but now is not the time to make new enemies," McQueen admitted to her.

"That's what I thought, but I just couldn't let it slide. I'm sorry if I embarrassed you. Now, there's something that I seem to be getting very good at. It's the only thing I'm really sure of," she said.

"Who was that?" he asked.

"My quote? Voltaire. I would have thought that it is one quotation that you would have burned into your memory." Kylen said.

I will now, he thought. I'll save that one for Hawkes next time he goes off about country or family.

Kylen nodded toward the pier. Her intention was clear. She had shifted her orbit again and wanted to move - wanted to be by the water. McQueen wasn't in any hurry to get back to The Barn. He could either join her or be left sitting in the darkness. It was a no-brainer. Keep up, McQueen, he thought to himself.

Next : Chapter Twenty-0ne

Previous : Chapter Eighteen

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