Chapter 27 - Fuller

Dale Steinbeck was sitting in his office reviewing the progress reports of several patients. He needed to compose his assessments prior to sending the reports on to the referring physicians, and now, in a growing number of his cases, the proper military authorities. Dale had not yet returned the fitness report on McQueen, Col. T.C. (821-36-97440), to the Marine Corps Office of Personnel. It wasn't complete. He still needed to complete the psychological evaluation. McQueen continued to politely but steadfastly refuse to visit the psychologist.

All was not sweetness and light at Dale Steinbeck's huge old Victorian. It seemed to Steinbeck that McQueen, while not precisely circling the drain, was growing ever more edgy and easily frustrated. The full weight of having no daily purpose outside of himself was hitting Ty hard. Steinbeck felt that he was running out of ways to break through the man's growing isolation and depression. Boredom is only rage spread thin, Dale thought. McQueen withdrew from company. He would exercise; work out like a man possessed then retreat into silence. He often sat up late at night after the other two had gone to bed. He was up and dressed by 0430 every morning.

Other than the fact that the man was profoundly sane and somewhat depressed, Dale simply did not know enough about InVitro psychology to really gauge McQueen's mental health. The Colonel showed no overt signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was, given what Steinbeck knew of McQueen's history, a remarkable testament to a stable individual. If only Kylen had not dropped her little bomb about McQueen having an intensely personal reason to resent having a leg based on AI technology. The torture. It was obvious and McQueen had yet to say word one. It must be a difficult way of life - to just be prepared to accept what comes along. How dreadful to always have to 'make the best' of things, Steinbeck thought. Dale wondered exactly how much Kylen actually knew. He doubted that McQueen would make the whole truth a primary topic of conversation.

Up until Thanksgiving, Kylen had been dividing her time almost equally between her home and the clinic. But she had now stayed at the farm for well over seven days. There had been Eithne's opening night, then Kylen had two sessions with her therapist and Howard wanted to review the contents of Kylen's now dog-eared little notebook. Plus Christmas was coming. Dale thought that spending undivided time at the farm was probably a very healthy thing for Kylen. It meant that she was beginning to reassimilate into her family. But Steinbeck missed having her around, and he thought that Amy did as well. Ty, interestingly, never brought her up. Kylen was a bridge and she had added an air of unpredictability that had kept the other three on their toes. Not always easy to be around while she was working through her own emotional baggage, but on the whole a nice addition to the little menage they had established. A buffer and a sparkplug at the same time.

It had actually been Amy and not Ty who had spoken to Kylen the night before. Home was "OK." Amy, reading between the lines, had asked Kylen to visit. She had become fond of the young woman. Dale had been pleased, actually. McQueen had appeared noncommittal, which was not unusual. Well," thought Steinbeck, "something has to change soon. The psych eval has to be done before he can return to duty. Perhaps Kylen can talk him into it. Maybe she can shake things up.

Dale became aware that he was no longer alone in the office and looked up to see his problem child, T.C. McQueen, standing in the doorway. McQueen pushed the envelope wherever and whenever he could, and Steinbeck realized that he would never learn the half of it. It had been one of the reasons that Dale has somewhat rushed "reupholstering the leg," as Kylen had so graphically described it. McQueen was a passable technician and an excellent mechanic, and Dale had begun to see signs that someone else had been tinkering with the merchandise. During the afternoons, McQueen was scheduled to work independently. Dale had no doubt that the man was working as hard as, and probably harder, than advised, but just exactly how he worked out was sometimes questionable, especially without Kylen to ride herd on him. At the moment it was a real effort for Steinbeck to not laugh openly at his patient. Tyrus, you are busted, he thought. McQueen obviously hadn't looked in the mirror recently. There were a few small bits of dead leaves in the man's short hair. He had obviously taken a tumble during a walk outside, and Dale seriously doubted that he would see that on the man's exercise journal. Psychologist or not, I see that we have to have a discussion about attitude.

"Is my fitness report done? Are you sending it in?" McQueen asked.

"As soon as it is finished, Ty," Dale said, gesturing at the pile of charts on his desk. McQueen was not Dale's only patient and really not his most challenging case medically or surgically, but the man had the most challeng ing personality to deal with. By far. Let's try this one more time with feeling, he sighed to himself. Dale stood and came around the desk.

"Come with me, Ty." Dale passed his secretary as they headed for the door. "Please tell Amy that I took the Colonel over to Bucky's house."

"Bucky?" McQueen questioned.

"Let's go, Marine. And get the mulch out of your hair before Amy sees it."

The two men piled into Dale's car. Not for the first time, McQueen had to admire Steinbeck's taste. The car was an imported European roadster. Powerful, black and fast. In minutes Dale parked the car by the edge of the road. They were almost at the top of the largest hill on the island The ground started to slope away a few feet from the car. The view was impressive.

"Over there, behind those trees, is Bucky's house," Dale gestured.

"Who is Bucky?" McQueen asked again.

"Buckminster Fuller. Geodesic domes? His family used to live here. The house is now over a century old. Brilliant man. Creative thinker. One of my heroes." Dale got out of the car and came around to lean against the hood. "We are here to watch the sunset."

McQueen seriously doubted that statement but joined Dale, leaning against the car and looking out over the scenery to the ocean beyond.

"Do you know what Fuller said?" Steinbeck asked rhetorically. "Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons." He let that statement sink in. "I think that we need to talk some about technology, Ty."

McQueen remained silent at Dale's side. The sky began to change colors as the sun descended. The bottoms of the clouds took on hues of pink and mauve; their tops became gray. "You said something about technology, Doctor?" McQueen inquired of the lanky man at his side.

"Bucky said many things. Did you know that he was a poet as well?" Steinbeck asked, hoping to bring a casual tone to the conversation. McQueen was not taken in - Dale had brought him up here to say something specific. McQueen was not one to beat around bushes and, in his experience, most civilians wasted too much time dancing around the subject.

"Technology?" McQueen repeated.

"OK, Ty, I'll try and cut to the chase," Dale said. "Of all my current patients you are the person I expected to move alongside the technology. You of all people. You are a pilot and I expected that you would integrate the technology faster than anyone. But you haven't. Have you?"

"Integrate the technology?" McQueen asked, but he already had the feeling that he understood what Dale was getting at. It gave McQueen an involuntary shiver.

"I want to talk about your leg," Dale continued. McQueen's subtle reaction had answered the question. "You fight with it. Which surprises me to some extent, given your study of Eastern thought. Tao, Zen and such. Look, Ty, when you fly or drive or even fine tune equipment, I know that you have 'the touch.' That you understand the clay, so's to speak."

"I understand the clay?" McQueen could feel himself becoming inexplicably defensive - and he disliked the feeling.

"Let me give you an illustration," Steinbeck explained. "You have seen all the art and craft shops in town? Well, one of them is owned by a good friend, Peter. I call him Peter the Potter. He has an incredible touch. Even working with porcelain. Oh, look at those colors. Spectacular for this time of year."

"Peter Potter," McQueen urged. Dale was getting off topic and talking like a civilian again.

"You're right, I digress. But it helps me to think," Dale admitted. McQueen had no concept of how a digression could actually help anyone focus their thoughts. Steinbeck went on.

"I was watching Peter throwing some terra cotta on the wheel with one of his summer students. The student's pots crumbled between his hands. Over and over again. Peter would give guidance but with no real progress. The student finally finished the lesson with a small pot. Thick walled and inelegant. When the student left I apologized, thinking that I had made the guy too nervous to throw well. Peter told me that it wasn't my presence but the fact that the guy just didn't 'understand the clay.'"

Dale pointed out across the sky at a particularly luscious formation of clouds pink and golden in the twilight. The ocean had begun to turn metallic in the sunset. "You know what I love about this island? You can see the sunrise from our house and you can come to the other side and see the sunset. It's like we are our own country here. Our own little continent."

"Ty, you shouldn't still be tripping over the leg. Your reflex test was superior. Hell, all the tests were superior. But you still have problems. You fight the clay. You try to bend it to your will. I can see your whole body trying to shout it into submission. The prosthetic will respond eventually to your will, if that is the method you insist upon. But it will beat you over the head before it submits. You are making it harder than it has to be." Dale paused to enjoy the changing sky for a few moments.

"Your nerves know what to do. As do your muscles. It's your head that has the problems," Dale asserted. "The Zen Archer, Ty. You can order the prosthetic all you want, but it will respond better and faster if you learn to let it become one with you. I know that you have reasons to hate this technology - reasons to reject it. I've seen the scars. But it will serve you. Finesse. A light touch. Like your Hammerhead or your cycle. Ease into it. Seduce it. Or rather, let it seduce you." Dale thought that Ty McQueen, while certainly not without experience, was probably not a particularly well versed student of seduction - either in seducing or being seduced - but it was the only analogy that came to mind. Ty McQueen lived a straightforward life. "Your troops will obey your orders because they are disciplined and loyal. But you know that if they admire and trust you personally they obey with greater enthusiasm. And when they know that you love and trust them ... Well, so much the better."

"You make it sound like this leg has a personality and a mind of its own." McQueen said.

"It doesn't. It only has what you give it - and you resent it," Dale told him.

"It is what it is." McQueen repeated Kylen's maxim.

"It is a way for you to fully enter into your life again, Ty."

The sun appeared to be entering the ocean. "You often think, don't you, while watching sunsets, that the ocean should boil and hiss when the sun touches it. But not this evening. Look at that water - it looks like the sun has melted steel. Like it is molten." Again he paused to take in the scene. When the sun was halfway down he spoke. 'When I think of a problem, I never think about beauty. I think of only how to solve the problem. But when I'm finished, if the solution isn't beautiful, I know it's wrong."

"Did Peter Potter say that too?" McQueen asked.

"No, Buckminster Fuller. Let's get back to the Barn. Kylen is coming." But neither moved until the sun had set.

Chapter 28 - Mark Twain

Kylen had been able to tease some travel vouchers out of Major Howard. She didn't know how many times she could go to that well but her finances and ration coupons were still tied up in red tape. She wanted to tell McQueen about her impending career change. She wanted him to be one of the first to know. Well, he told me to get involved with something that I believed in didn't he? To find something to make me feel useful? He just hadn't known what I would do that's all. Importantly, Kylen also wanted his advice on how to break the news to Nathan and her father. She pulled into Steinbeck's a little before dinner.

Amy heard the car pull in and met Kylen at the door with a hug. Kylen felt that she had come to know the routine of the household. She counted off the residents on her fingers to Amy. "Dale is still at the clinic and McQueen is taking a shower after his afternoon session. Let's see, there is one cat in here which means that one is probably asleep on the Colonel's bed. God is in His heaven and all is right with the world. How do you want me to help with dinner?"

The little speech made Amy laugh. Kylen had them pegged. It was a relief to have someone here to lighten the mood in the house, but the younger woman had been wrong. "No, Kylen, any evening but this one and you would have been right. The boys are out and about, but step this way. We can discuss them in their absence," Amy joked as she gestured grandly toward the kitchen.

Dinner was subdued but companionable. Dale, Amy, and Kylen talked about what Kylen's family was up to, the weather, life at The Clinic. Talk of the war was generally avoided during meals. Kylen noted not so much McQueen's silence, which was not by itself unusual, but his lack of involvement altogether. After dinner the Colonel went to sit alone in the library rather than take part in the usual after-dinner activities: clean up and conversation. Amy took her brandy into the parlor and Dale pulled Kylen to the side. He had a favor to ask.

A few minutes later Kylen headed toward the library holding a glass of scotch that Dale had poured for McQueen. She was not happy with the mission she had been given. When she entered the library Kylen was struck, as she had been the first time she had met The Colonel, by the bubble that he always seemed to build around himself. Sitting in the leather chair in front of the fire, he looked more alone than anyone Kylen had ever seen. Even the cats were avoiding him. She handed him the scotch.

"I've been sent," Kylen told him softly.

"For?" McQueen asked her as he stared into the flames.

"To try and talk you out of your passive aggressive behavior. You are making a dreadful parenting error."

"Which is?" he inquired warily.

"Do as I say, not as I do," she said. McQueen looked up briefly at her then back into the fire.

Kylen decided to try to jolly him along. "Don't put off 'til tomorrow what you can put off 'til the day after tomorrow," she said with false gravity. McQueen did not respond. Kylen went on. "Bite the bullet, McQueen."

"If there is a point, Kylen, land on it," he muttered. But he knew precisely the point she was attempting to make.

"You've told me to talk to someone, encouraged it as a matter of fact. Well, now, Six, you have to. You have to see the shrink."

"You think I'm suicidal?" McQueen more stated than asked her.

"Don't be ridiculous. And don't play games with me. You aren't all that good at it," Kylen said. Why won't he just tell me? she wondered. "Look, if you were your own commanding officer, I bet you'd want you to be seen by somebody you would believe first before you would let yourself back on duty."

"Well, Kylen, that was crystal clear. See if you can make a more convoluted statement," McQueen responded. She has rapidly passed over being irritating and is becoming a real pain in the ass, he thought. The fact was that McQueen knew she was making sense.

"OK, I'll try and clarify for you Colonel," she said unable to maintain her patience. "We've got an isolated and pissed off Marine with a big ax to grind. We don't know if he is stable. But, hey, lets give him lots of grunts to move around the universe. And, hey, while we're at it, we'll give him lots and lots of big guns, too." She paused. "You know that you have to have an evaluation before they will let you back on active duty. Just get it over with."

She made sense and it infuriated McQueen. He wasn't really sure why he was avoiding the issue so violently. He had been through psych evaluations before - he had always hated it, but he had put up with it. Damn her. Damn her being right again, he thought.

Even though McQueen was sitting, it seemed to Kylen as if he was gazing down on her from a great height. He was wearing an expression that she had seen during her work for the InVitro Rights movement. She had come to think of it as "The Blank Tank" expression.

"Oh, give it up," she said. " Don't use that face on me."

He said nothing. His inability to silence her was vexing.

"Do you practice that face in the mirror or what?" Kylen spat and began to pace. "It must work for you on some level, but it is a double edged sword, you know. You don't give any information. It's true. No one can tell what you are thinking, but it allows people to project anything they want onto you."

"And what they 'project' on me - the mistakes they make - tell me more about them than they ever would," he spoke over her. 'Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake,'" McQueen's eyes flashed and reflected the fire.

"Look around you, McQueen," Kylen demanded, her tone rising. "How many enemies do you see? This may be an island but it ain't Elba. It's temporary."

Amy and Dale could not help but overhear parts of the exchange coming from the library. Dale moved to the door to hear more clearly. Amy started to move toward the library but he blocked her way with his arm. "Amy, wait. Let them work it out. If they draw blood, I'll step in."

Kylen was incensed with McQueen. She could appreciate the fact that his life was not going as he had planned - but neither was hers. It wasn't a reason to withdraw from her, of all people, and there was certainly no reason for him to be abusive to her. An enemy, indeed! she thought.

Kylen felt as if their connection was slipping away, and this connection had been something that she had unconsciously counted on for weeks. Her counselor, Doctor Feller, had confronted Kylen about her frequent symptoms of depression. Kylen had difficulty seeing them in herself, but no problem seeing them in McQueen and she didn't think she could handle watching him sink under. Kylen took a breath and tried to calm herself. She decided to try the old pattern.

"So, McQueen, you've decided to show the dark side of your moon." She hadn't intended the double entendre but it amused her nonetheless.

"Not now." McQueen said softly, almost a threat.

"Everyone is a moon and has a dark side which he never shows to anyone," Kylen continued in a light and breezy tone.

"Not now, Celina"

"Don't you know the author, McQueen?" she wheedled. He tried to ignore her.

"Then, tell me, McQueen, are the reports exaggerated?" Kylen's tone was challenging.

"What reports?"

"The reports of your death. Sitting here in the same room with you, I'm not so sure that they are exaggerated."

"Don't start with me, you will not win," he said giving her 'The Look.'

"Bet me, Buckwheat," she muttered under her breath.

"Enough" he warned.

"I beg your pardon, was that something worth hearing?"

"I said enough!" he growled.

"Excuse me, Did you say something? " she shot back.


Now she was angry with him. A voice inside her told her to drop it but she found herself unable to do so. She was not going to be shut up by anyone. Kylen was free. She had survived. She could say no. McQueen had told her that himself. She looked him in the eyes, emboldened.

Sarcastically she gave her response: "He shouted opening Door Number Two. Enter the supreme commander."

"Not that crap again, B.P." he groaned.

"What is this B. P.?" Kylen asked. "Beach Patrol? Butter Pecan? British Petroleum?"

"Bad Penny, Small Change," he virtually sneered it to her. "And Elba was temporary. Everything is temporary."

Kylen was momentarily silenced. She could not believe what had just come out of his mouth. She sat, needing to regroup. She knew that he didn't believe it - that everything was temporary - that there were no constants. Or she hoped that he didn't really believe it. She desperately hoped it was a grandstand statement meant to shut her up. Kylen made a decision - for whatever the reason he had lied for effect.

"Don't forget that I grew up on a farm, Colonel," she said gently. "I know bullshit when I smell it."

Her tone had managed to release some of the tension in the room. McQueen couldn't answer. Kylen had come to understand him too well and had called him on it.

Amy took another step toward the library. Dale shook his head no; she stepped back and sat nervously in her chair.

"Colonel McQueen, are you angry with me or just angry?" Kylen asked.

McQueen snorted. It was an interesting question. One that undoubtedly had a story behind it. McQueen really wasn't up for one of her stories. He walked right over her question, choosing to ignore it totally.

Both McQueen and Kylen tried to calm themselves. They knew that they were skating on thin ice, but neither one was willing to break off and leave the room. They both felt that they had too much invested to leave.

Kylen wanted to ease the tension so she went to her bag and pulled out what she had wanted to show him. To her this had been good news - something to be excited about - and she hoped he would be happy with her. Kylen handed him the letter. It was good quality stationery embossed with the Marine Corps symbol and the return address of Headquarters at Eighth and I. McQueen started to read the letter.

Howard and Radford. McQueen had wondered what the deal was with those two and the letter now made it uncomfortably clear. I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. And here it is with a particularly vicious little bang, he thought. Now, the question is 'why'.

"What the Hell do you think you are playing at, Kylen?" he said through clenched teeth.

"I'm not playing at anything, McQueen. I found something useful to do. At your suggestion, I might add. Something I believe in. I've been offered a job. I'm going to be working for Howard and General Radford in Intelligence. Civilian assistant. I believe the word is aide. Analysis. Assimilated rank of second lieutenant. My security clearance will be unbelievable."

"You have no idea, Kylen."

"Fortune favors the bold you said," she said, challenging him.

"You don't know what you are doing," he said contemptuously. McQueen hated having his own advice thrown back in his face.

"Oh? And you do?" she shot back. Kylen was tired of trying to appease him. If he wants to be difficult - let him. Just don't expect me to play along.

McQueen was silenced. The air bristled around them. Kylen was momentarily quieted but the perverse side of her nature - having grown up holding her own with eight siblings - was now in full control.

"McQueen, It's a damn good thing I like animals," she said almost conversationally.

"What now?" he asked wearily.

"That 800 pound gorilla you trail around on a short leash gets to be a bit much."

"800 pound what?" he questioned.

"Gorilla. You know, McQueen. Gorilla? People can often see it coming before they ever see you. It's huge and black - this thing - your anger."

"What are you talking about?" he quizzed her.

"It's huge and black," she repeated; her heat and volume continued to grow. "It's shiny with massive shoulders and a great silver back. High forehead. Heavy brow. Big teeth. Real National Geographic stuff. It smells too. Hell, you can smell it before you see it. Fireworks, jock straps, and overripe fruit. And burning little red eyes. Suspicious, mean, nasty, angry, shifty little burning red eyes." Kylen wasn't finished...not by any means.

"It, this anger ... It ignores everyone who loves you. It pushes them aside. It walks over them. It doesn't even deign to look down as it steps over the bodies. And you, _YOU_. You feed it and pet it. You love it. You groom it and spoil it and teach it tricks. But you forget, you stubborn man. You forget that this anger is a living thing. A wild thing. Oh, I know you love the fact that it is wild and that you really only barely control it. You glory in walking on the edge of it. You bask in its heat. But I tell you, if you don't tame it, McQueen, it will tear into you soon enough. It will eat you. Consume you. Spit you out and use your bones to pick its teeth."

Her conviction and volume had grown throughout her diatribe and she was yelling now, in full sail. She was flying. Fearing that she would go even farther, she chose to sweep from the room in a grand exit and began to make her way up the stairs.

McQueen was thunderstruck. Drill instructors and superior officers had reamed him, but with dispassionate, impersonal aggression. Even in their worst arguments years ago, Amy had never come at him with such ferocity. No one ever had. Not like that. Little Kylen; he was almost afraid of her. But she was correct, yet again; his anger was huge and it was on the rise.

"You little puke," he shouted as he followed her out of the room.

Kylen turned around halfway up the stairs. "Is that a Marine Corps term? Yea? Well, deal with it, Big Bird. I know that few things are harder to put up with than a good example. Martyrdom covers a multitude of sins, McQueen. At least I'm doing something with my life. Something to disturb the universe. And, by the way, I see that I managed to get you off of your dead ass and out of that chair. "

"Get Down Here, you fucking cheerleader," he ordered in his best parade ground bark.

"No, I don't think so, McQueen. You can't give me any orders yet and I've had more than enough of what's behind 'Door Number Three' to last for a long long time. And, for your information, I am not now nor have I ever been a cheerleader, fucking or otherwise." With that she slipped off her shoe and winged it at his head. Her aim was true and he had to duck. When he looked back up she was gone.

Next : Chapter Twenty-Nine

Previous : Chapter Twenty-Six

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