Chapter 29 - Toni Morrison

Kylen slammed into her room, ripping off clothing as she crossed to the bathroom. The only answer was hot water. She wasn't used to fighting with people she cared so deeply for and was upset by the incident itself, let alone the content. The bitter exchange had left her feeling dirty. She set the shower for the hottest temperature she could stand and the strongest massage. She gave a quick shake to the bottles of perfumed soap and shampoo that Eithne had given her.
I hope there is enough, she thought. Tears of frustration stung her cheeks as she climbed into the steam.

Downstairs in the parlor, Amy was absolutely glued to her chair, flabbergasted. Steinbeck seemed relieved and a bit amused. "That was one pissed off little cheerleader," he said to himself. McQueen was still standing at the foot of the stairs - looking at the spot where Kylen had stood, but focusing on something within himself. Dale approached McQueen and calmly picked up the shoe. "I particularly liked the bit about the nasty burning little red eyes," he chuckled. "She certainly can turn a phrase, our little Kylen," Dale said, leaving no doubt that the exchange had been overheard in its entirety.

McQueen spun around to face the doctor. "How much longer?" he demanded. "How much longer do I have to stay here? Sitting around your house doing nothing. I've got to get out of here. I have to do something. I've got to get back."

Dale turned the shoe over in his hand. "Shoe therapy. Now, why didn't I think of that?" He paused briefly and then steered McQueen back into the library.

"To answer your question," Dale replied. "First of the year. The end is in sight, Ty, but let me give you some advice. Calm down and then go upstairs and grovel. She is a woman, and groveling usually helps," he chuckled to himself. "If you don't make your manners with her tonight, she's likely to put the other shoe up your butt tomorrow."

"Apologize?" McQueen was indignant. "Me? She was a little harridan."

"Not very pretty but effective," Dale remarked. He paused before continuing in a different tone. "Ty, she admires and respects you. Don't look at me like that. You know I'm right. Other than the odd joke and occasional gentle teasing - and I stress gentle - when has she ever shown you disrespect? I don't know how she behaves privately, but publicly she has always paid you your due. Even with Amy and me she will only call you Colonel or Sir. Ty, she brought you news. Kylen wants you to be proud of her. She wanted your approval. Calling someone a little puke isn't exactly the best way to do that."

"She comes here to get away from the circus at her house. She comes here for herself. So she can feel better. I do not exist to make her feel better." McQueen muttered with an intensity that mildly surprised Steinbeck.

"Of course she comes here because you make her feel better. I like to think that I make her feel better. That Amy does, too. But you can't pretend that she is a little bloodsucker either. You can't tell me that she doesn't lighten your spirits. That your days, hell, all of our days, are just a little more interesting when she does visit. Tell me that she never plans things to distract you, or that she never makes you laugh. That she never pays attention to your feelings or what you have to say. Even if she is sometimes trying, tell me that you don't enjoy her company. You can't. Give me a break. Kylen knows who you are. Fair trade is no robbery, Ty."

Kylen was washing her hair, letting the water rinse away the anxiety. Damn it, I bitch to him about his anger and I can't control my own. The fight had made her aware that she had been training her own rage. A Doberman to his gorilla, true, but she had been keeping it hidden.

"Black thoughts grow best in the dark," she quoted her favorite colonel. I've been stuffing things away in a dark place deep inside myself. Kylen had been trying to follow McQueen's advice; not to worry about things over which she had no control, but she was finding it difficult. I wonder how well he really does it? Can he control his thoughts as well as he does his dreams?

Survivor's guilt was a well known and documented psychological reality, but there was a world of difference between reading an article and living with shadows. Being free was one thing - claiming ownership of that freed self was another. When Kylen looked into the mirror she often didn't recognize the woman who was now living behind her eyes. And worse yet was the knowledge that often the people with whom she shared her life, her history and her love didn't recognize that woman either. Her family wrapped themselves around her. Interested, open but never pressing, they had all taken the lessons of the "decompression" seminars to heart. The family tried to let her find her own way. They ignored her foul language as best they could. (That had been a big change she hadn't even realized until four letter words started falling off of her tongue in the middle of her father's living room.) She could see compassion in their eyes and could feel their love and patience. Sometimes it made her feel like they were sapping her strength rather than assisting, and it made her want to scream. They had thought her dead - 'anything dead coming back to life hurts.'

The counselors had been right about other behaviors as well. Most of the time things went pretty well. She still had trouble sleeping and actually felt the most comfortable, the most truly at home, in the middle of the night when she was the only one up and around. Alone, but with people around her. There but not there. Kylen found herself weighing people and judging them. The ups and downs of the everyday life that most people lived, the life she had dreamed of every night in the mines, often seemed trivial. Too many silly, worthless things that people worried about and on which they wasted their time and energy. Often even her family all appeared weak to her - untempered and untried. Her father, her brothers and her sisters still too often treated her with kid gloves and Kylen felt that she could easily break any one of them with the sheer force of her will if she so desired. They made her impatient. Sometimes she wondered how they could breathe.

Kylen found that she now often preferred the company of people that she had only just met, people who knew her since the disaster on Tellus. Steinbeck's house had, until this evening, been a release. Everyone here just took her as she was today. No one had looked for subtle differences in her reactions or had held her up to an imaginary line on the wall. Until this evening.

Kylen was forced to realize something uncomfortable. What had bothered her the most hadn't been McQueen's temper. She had seen it before. His isolation did seem extreme which deeply worried but did not surprise her. But what had upset Kylen - had caused her to lash out - was the fact that for the first time McQueen had treated her as he treated everyone else. She had observed that he could attack people and ideas effortlessly, quietly, dismissively. She knew that he had a streak of ruthlessness if pushed. McQueen had put up 'Do Not Disturb' signs but had never slammed the door in her face. He had warned her to back off; setting out clear boundaries that she had respected. But she had never before felt the actual fusillade of his brusque dismissal and aloof appraisal. He had never aimed his guns at her. Kylen had gotten used to the pride of place. She had come to think of it as her own little Door: No number but her tiny name instead. Her trust was shaken and it hurt and frightened her to be shut out of his circle.

"Civilians!" Ty used the term like a curse.

Dale responded: "I suppose we civilians are from a different reality, but the fact remains that, you are immensely important to her. You are her link to both worlds. The one world she had before Tellus and the one she lives in now. She is devoted to you. Kylen wants you strong and clear. She wants you to be your best, not just because she feels safe with you, but for you - all by yourself - just you - because you have great worth. But I will tell you this, T.C. McQueen: She does want something from you. She wants you to think of her as valuable.... And since it is 'Samuel Clemens Night - who, until this evening, I never thought of as confrontational - at least not in this sense)," he gestured with the shoe. "Remember: 'Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions.'" He gave McQueen a moment to think it over. "Nathan isn't here but you are. You really don't know how significant you are to her, do you?"

"Of course she has value. I wouldn't be pissed off if she didn't have value," McQueen protested, choosing to ignore Steinbeck's question.

"So tell her. Look, Tyrus, I know that you've been dealing with your self-image, but you may also have to deal with your image of the future. And I don't just mean in the war."

"What are you talking about ?"

"Face it, no matter how you may have pictured your death, you just may not go out in a blaze of glory - and you will never be one to just fade away. You will die one day. But it just may be that you will die old, in your own bed, hopefully surrounded by people who care about you." McQueen just snorted his doubt at that statement.

Amy had entered with a brandy which she handed to her cousin, Dale. "Why wouldn't we be there?" she asked McQueen. "Besides, after tonight, Kylen will be there just to make sure that you really are dead." The snide remark actually eased McQueen's hostility. Amy spoke again.

"Ty, I know that you love her." Amy held up her hand to cut short any protest. "Make that: I know the manner in which you love her. If you want to dance at her wedding ... if you one day hope to be called 'Uncle T.C.' and to get silly drawings from her children to hang in your quarters .... You should take his advice. Listen to Dale. Kylen will forgive you almost anything, I think, but don't be fooled, she doesn't come here to babysit your attitude."

Dale gave McQueen a moment to think it over then added: "Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with."

Kylen was washing her hair for the second time and trying to analyze the confrontation. She came to the conclusion that she had wanted McQueen to do something that now, upon reflection, she didn't think that he was able to do: Kylen had wanted him to let go of his rage. She believed McQueen implicitly, and he had once told her that a good commander does not give orders that are impossible to follow. Now Kylen was no longer sure if letting go of his anger was a good thing for him to do - a safe thing. In her estimation, he was a keenly balanced individual. Kylen had heard somewhere that to be normal meant the ability to work and to love. McQueen was normal and he had paid dearly to be that way. Not that it meant he had a particularly well balanced personality. She considered several things as she turned the water temperature up even higher as if the hot water drumming on her back would clarify her thoughts.

McQueen is an angry man and has lots of reasons to be such. He is driven and single minded. He is accomplished and successful and, most importantly, he has built himself from the ground up. People ask for and respect his opinion. Hell, wasn't that what I wanted? His good opinion? McQueen has tested and polished himself - found the mix that fuels his successes. No, expecting him to give up that spike of anger is like expecting a thoroughbred not to be hot-blooded and fractious. Take it away and the balance could be thrown off. For a man in his line of work that could be dangerous. Maybe fatal. McQueen didn't have to just stand balanced on the edge of a cliff - he had to walk over it on a tightrope and he carried the weight of others on his shoulders while he did it. If fortune would smile, someday he could relax - but today wasn't the day. His life and that of others could depend on his sense of self - his sense of balance. For now, changes had to be made in very small increments.

Amy and Dale led Ty into the parlor where they sat while they all composed their thoughts and emotions. They could all hear that Kylen had retreated into the shower. No one could really think of anything to say, so they sat for quite a while in silence. Finally they heard the water stop and Kylen's footsteps could be heard coming from the floor above. The sound seemed to provided a release for the trio.

Dale looked at Amy. "What family doesn't have it's little problems?"

"What?" she asked, tired. She really hadn't heard him and didn't really care. "Oh, Dale, I'm tired. I don't know what you mean and I'm going up to my room." She gave Ty a pat on the back, kissed Dale on the cheek goodnight and started up the stairs. Dale followed her and gave her the answer. "It's from 'The Lion in Winter.' Don't worry, Kylen will know."

Kylen had put on her pajamas and was brushing her teeth. Since her first night at The Barn she had left her toothbrush and a few toiletries in the little bathroom attached to what Dale had assured her was "her" room. She had staked her claim on this little corner of the universe. Someday. Someday, maybe even tomorrow, I'll have to take this with me when I go. The thought of not leaving something of herself behind in this house, with these people, made her very sad. Dale is probably going to take the news of my decision to work for the Corps about as well as McQueen, and Amy flat out hates the Big Green.

Kylen sat on her bed and pulled out her journal, which she had started to keep at the suggestion of Doctor Feller. In reality it was also a scrapbook of sorts. Kylen had filled it with articles, news stories and pictures, as well as the writing of the ups and downs of her readjustment. She was amused to see that she had unconsciously divided the journal into sections. There was a special place for her family and a section filled with items about the disastrous Tellus mission. There was now a divider for Maine and life at The Barn, and a section for Nathan which was also filling with things about the 58th.

When she finds out I'm compartmentalizing, Feller will probably schedule a half a dozen more intensive sessions. If he was in a better mood, McQueen would probably get a good chuckle over the fact that I'm dividing my life into compartments, she thought. Colonel McQueen was the only person who inhabited more than one section of her journal.

Kylen looked at a picture of Nathan. It was a formal portrait of him in his dress blues wearing the Montgomery Star. He was a recruitment officer's dream.

Kylen's study of the Marine Corps had revealed a strange dichotomy. A number of individual Marines seemed to have difficulty accepting the cultural differences between their lives and the lives of the civilian population. When she had been at Marine Headquarters, she had overheard a couple of Marine enlisted men use the word "Nasty" when talking about the civilians they had to shepherd around. It had struck her as odd, this friction between the military and "The World" that so many of the men longed for. Kylen had finally asked the corporal who had been assigned to take her to see the Marine Corps Memorial at Arlington.

The young man had apologized that she had heard the remark, but, she noted, he didn't apologize for the remark itself.

"It is a difficult thing to explain, Ma'am. I suppose that many men and women in the services find that there is a lack of discipline in the general population. And on a personal note, Ma'am, I don't believe that I have heard anyone outside of the Corps - other than my father and my minister - use the term 'integrity.' The Marine Corps just lives by a different code.

Kylen turned a few pages and found the most recent news article about Colonel McQueen. Another formal portrait of an officer in the dress uniform. But there was a difference in this photograph.

McQueen's devotion to the Marine Corps was unquestionable. It was a perfect example of the Square Peg. But for the first time Kylen saw that there was a possibility that there was an unacknowledged element inside that commitment. Kylen wondered if it was discomfort with the civilian world, fear of the lack of rules - the existence of riots, ghettos and the everpresent IVA.

The InVitro units had been disbanded by law. An InVitro joined the military now only by free will. She was not so naive as to believe that there weren't two standards of behavior - one for Naturals and one for InVitros - but the framework within the military was firm, the expectations clearly laid out. There was only so much a bigot could get away with. It had to be better than in 'The World,' as Marines called civilian life. It certainly had to be better for McQueen with every rank he had achieved especially now as a Full Bird Colonel. Begrudgingly or not, every Marine had to give him the respect of his rank and achievement. McQueen would never be treated with the same respect and civility in the private sector.

Kylen compared the photographs of Nathan and McQueen. Nathan looked like the man you would want to have defending your freedom. 'Character, leadership, duty, integrity.' He filled the uniform the way you hoped it would be filled. It added an air of maturity and competence. Kylen smiled and stroked the face in the photograph with her finger.

The portrait of McQueen was subtly different. In his case the uniform did not add to the man: The man added to the uniform. Kylen was familiar with Door Number Two - McQueen in command mode. She had seen him in uniform, but not like this. This image was a door to a part of the man that she didn't know. It was not a picture of the man she considered her one of her closest friends. It was almost a photograph of a stranger - someone who she could only vaguely imagine. McQueen looked not only like an officer and a gentleman. Not only warrior - but High Priest. The dress blue tunic was his sacred vestment, his ephod. Kylen wouldn't have been in the least surprised to see the Ark of the Covenant behind him.

McQueen had heard Dale and Amy close their doors, had listened as they both padded around their rooms getting ready for bed. When all was silent in the house, McQueen finished his drink in solitude and then he too started up the stairs.

Chapter 30 - Akhenaton

McQueen stood outside of Kylen's door, pausing momentarily. I feel absolutely ridiculous, he thought. Apologies were like good-byes to him. He didn't like them and rarely made them. You didn't apologize in the Marine Corps. Not usually. Rarely. You said 'Aye Aye' or 'Yes, Sir,' ' No, Sir' or 'No Excuse, Sir.' But you rarely, if ever, said 'I'm sorry.' Besides, I'm not even sure what I'm sorry for...What I did .... She was the one who came after me....... No, that's not the truth. She isn't one of your Marines. She isn't in boot camp. You stupid tank, you tried to walk all over her. McQueen knocked gently on the door, unsure of what waited for him on the other side.

"Come in."

McQueen opened the door. He did not enter, but stood in the doorway. Thank God she isn't packing her bag. She isn't going to leave. He only just realized that he had been afraid of that. Afraid that she would leave. Kylen was sitting cross-legged on the bed. She looked at him impassively, which was not what McQueen had expected. He wasn't sure what such an expression from her meant, and she had learned it from him. "Kylen, may I speak with you?" She gave him the once-over and he knew he was being "read." She was looking for something. Whatever it was she must have found it because she spoke.

"Listening," was all she said, but it gave him a sense of relief.

"Could we go downstairs, please? " he suggested. His training was ingrained and totally unconscious. He was an InVitro, Kylen a Natural-Born. He wouldn't enter the bedroom of a Natural-Born woman unless invited and preferably in front of witnesses. Kylen was dimly aware of his racial discomfort, and it hurt her for herself and for him. And yet, the kitchen was neutral ground and a better place for this conversation. She put on her slippers and a robe. Her appearance bewildered the Marine. Kylen was wearing thermal pajamas. Green - a shade that Ty had never seen in nature. The robe was one that Dale had loaned to Kylen the first night she had spent in the house. An ancient "Indian Blanket" woolen number. Dale was almost a foot taller than Kylen. The robe dragged the ground and was large enough to fit two of her. The sleeves had been rolled up and held with safety pins. It was huge and ridiculous - and although Ty didn't know - Kylen loved it. Her slippers were beyond his ken altogether. They were big, fluffy, and pink. They looked like stuffed animals, and the right one squeaked when she took a step. It was so fantastic that he couldn't even laugh. He'd never seen anything like it in his entire life.

Kylen swept past him and down the stairs. McQueen had a feeling that things weren't going well. He whispered to himself: "Every lion cometh forth from his den." He hadn't intended for her to hear him - at least not consciously - but Kylen, three or four steps ahead of him, had heard.

"All serpents, they sting, " she snapped, finishing the couplet without looking back. McQueen didn't respond. He was unsure if her response was a warning or an accusation.

They regrouped in the kitchen. McQueen held out a chair for Kylen and she sat. He sat across from her. Both had their hands folded in front of them on the table. She remained impassive and waited for him to speak - and waited.

McQueen thought he knew how he would start if one of the 58th was sitting in front of him, but he was balancing what to say to Kylen. He was struck again by the lack of clear rules outside The Corps. She probably needed the same guidance that his 'Kids' did, but he didn't know how to say it. He had seen - but had no real understanding - of the life she had lived.

Kylen continued to wait. This time was different. Before she had always broken - had spoken first. This time it was different: She would not be moved. McQueen could feel himself begin to fidget. This was unbelievable. He was going to crack first and he knew it. McQueen did not want to look Kylen in the eyes so he looked at her hands folded on the table in front of him. Kylen followed his gaze and immediately removed her hands from the table.

Oh, shit. Good move, McQueen. Focus on what makes her uncomfortable. Way to go ace. he cursed himself.

Strangely enough, McQueen had inadvertently tipped the scales in his own favor. He had succeeded in breaking her concentration. Kylen's will had been shaken, and now she could wait no longer. She fell back on the tried and true - sarcasm. "So, McQueen? How about them Patriots, huh?"

McQueen's train of thought was destroyed. How does she do that? Wang would have loved her. And for the first time the memory of Paul didn't hurt.

Kylen spoke: "It is my fondest wish that someday...someday I'll get to hear you really laugh - really laugh out loud."

"And someday you will do as I tell you," McQueen shot back before he could think better of it. But she hadn't listened to him. He had repeatedly told her to get away from these people as soon as she could. To get away from him as well.

Shit, don't push his buttons, Kylen thought. McQueen still thinks enough of you to make peace......or I think that's why .... I hope that's why he brought me down here.

"Hot chocolate?" she asked quickly. She stood up and crossed behind McQueen to make the drink. She was unconsciously playing a power card by forcing him to turn in his chair.

"Coffee. Please," he responded without thinking, and realized that she wasn't going to bring up the sore subject. She would dance around it forever. It was up to him.

"Kylen, I hate to tell you this, but a PFC gets more respect than a Second Lieutenant, particularly at assimilated rank. It's well known that a 'Butter Bar' can't pour piss out of a boot." It irritated him that she would not sit still.

"I don't intend to stay a 'Butter Bar.'" She tossed the remark over her shoulder like she had used the term for years when in fact this was the first time she had heard it. McQueen's statement had thrown her a bit but also increased her determination.

"Kylen, I know about this. I'm afraid you've been sold a bill of goods. It's a highly disciplined life. You can't have those in the Corps," he said, pointing at her bunny slippers. "Marines don't wear pink." He was actually a bit concerned that The Corps would stifle her. He enjoyed her independent spirit. But what McQueen was really trying desperately not to admit to himself - what did not fit with his self-image - what he was only just barely conscious of - was that he was jealous. The Corps wanted Kylen.

"They are Bridee's. She gave them to me. She thought that she was too old for them so she gave them to me. Go figure. Be glad that you bypassed thirteen, Bird. It's no picnic. "

McQueen could not contain himself. "But what are they?" he asked.

"Bunny slippers. No, I don't imagine that Amy ever wore Bunny slippers, did she? We may have a problem with Bridee by the way, McQueen."

"What are you talking about, Kylen? I can't keep up," he admitted for the first time in his life. He knew that Bridee was one of the sisters - other than that he was lost. It didn't occur to him that he had correctly interpreted the "we" in Kylen's statement to mean him and Kylen - not Kylen and her family.

"Bridee. She is in love with Cooper Hawkes."

"She doesn't know Cooper Hawkes," McQueen said. His lack of understanding was complete.

"Like I said, she is thirteen. Bridee thinks Coop is incredible. She's heard the stories. She's seen his picture, which she now keeps beside her bed, by the way. That's enough when you're thirteen." Kylen realized that the point of her conversation was too far outside of his realm. McQueen was beyond lost, and there really wasn't anything he could do about it in any case. Such things often took care of themselves. The overt tension between them was dissolving. " Never mind," she said. "I'll try to handle it. But we aren't here to talk about Bridee and Coop, are we? And you didn't call me down here to discuss footwear."

Kylen had managed to regain control of herself. McQueen's thinking had been correct. Kylen had been reading him as he had stood outside her door. Kylen knew she could have avoided the argument - could have headed it off any number of times. McQueen had only given as good as he had gotten: This she knew. She had read him not so much for an apology as for a sign that he had not rejected her. A willingness to go on.

"I still forget sometimes," Kylen said and busied herself. "Here. Help me." She gestured to the cups and dishes she had removed from the cupboard and to the dessert, pie left from dinner. Eating together - breaking bread - was something one did with friends. To Kylen it signaled more than a truce: It was a way to come together again.

"When I see you every day ... ,"she said softly. Almost all of their real conversations took place in hushed tones and half whispers, even when they were alone. They only used conversational tones to communicate the unimportant - the everyday. Neither Kylen nor McQueen was aware of the astonishing impression of intimacy this gave to other people. This was just who they were with - and for each other. "When I see you here, like this - with us ... With me - I forget."

"What do you forget?" McQueen had opted to follow her detour for the moment. He wasn't looking forward to apologizing and he had learned that a winding path is often the easiest way to get to the top. He rose and helped her transfer the items to the table.

"I forget what General Radford told me about you," Kylen admitted.

"What was that?" he asked tenuously.

"I asked him about you once. 'Is McQueen as good as I think he is?" (That was exactly how she had worded the question - they had been talking about McQueen's abilities as a pilot, but Radford had captured the many layers of her question.) "He gave me two words .... Well, three." She turned to look at McQueen.

"Radford said: 'No, he's better.'"

The words hung in the air, floating like contrails near the ceiling. McQueen and Kylen were silent while the imagined vapor dissipated in the air. McQueen finally wheeled around on his cane, went to the butler's pantry and returned with a bottle of scotch. It was going to be a long night.

Chapter 31 - Kipling

Kylen looked at McQueen as he poured a scotch for himself and, as an afterthought, one for her as well.

"It's a highly ordered and structured way of life, Kylen." McQueen shifted his gaze back to her, only to find that Kylen was looking at him as if he had two heads.

"Colonel McQueen, I may not know much about the military, but my head doesn't screw on and off," she said evenly.

"That's one thing I know for sure," he said, giving her his 'almost' smile. "But can you follow orders? Can you live without questioning everything?"

"Colonel, the Marine Corps has obviously worked for you. It is a way of life that answers a particular need in you. Nathan seems to like it well enough. Why not me? Besides, I'll be a civilian employee - and my job will be to question things." McQueen did not answer her. Kylen had asked him another question and he thought she had just proved his point.

Kylen went on: "So, you obviously don't think I have what it takes to be one of the Few and the Proud. Does that mean you also think that I don't have what is needed to even work for the Corps?"

McQueen was able to answer without hesitation. "I don't question your sincerity, Kylen. You are just too much the civilian. It is the difference between involvement and commitment."

"How so?"

"You see it at breakfast all the time," he said. "Ham and eggs. You can say that the chicken was involved, but the pig was definitely committed."

It made Kylen giggle. She was surprised at how often his maxims about The Corps made her laugh. She knew that he did not catch the irony of eggs: He certainly knew the military definition of scrambled eggs and undoubtedly used the term, but he probably wouldn't appreciate the joke right now. The term was used to describe the gold metallic decorations on the brim of an officer's hat. He would have scrambled eggs on his cover. I'll never be able to read or hear 'Green Eggs and Ham' again without thinking of McQueen and the Marine Corps.

McQueen continued. "Eisenhower once said: 'When you put on the uniform you accept certain inhibitions.'"

It clicked inside her mind. That's it. Putting on the uniform may come with its own set of responsibilities and inhibitions, but it also came with an identity and a belonging that was historic and honored. It came with rights and privileges. Esprit de corps. The Marine Corps was not temporary. She had been right - he had been grandstanding. Part of her relaxed. Kylen then leapfrogged at least one of his thoughts.

"Our relationship is going to change anyway," she offered.

"How so?" McQueen asked. He had recognized this fact since the night that Kylen had broken into the Clinic. She had earlier even written him the words: 'This is a season we have to live through.' It wasn't what Kylen had originally meant, but it would serve. 'A season.' Yes, it would change, but he was interested in knowing her take on things.

Kylen took a deep breath and spoke. "Well, I hope our relationship - whatever you want to call it - But I hope that our real relationship doesn't change; our inside relationship. How we ... oh, I don't know the right word.... How we connect with each other; it is going to change. You have the birds on your shoulders already but someday, before too long, there will be a formal ceremony. They will pin them on your dress blues and you will get your newest medals and cameras will flash. You will be the highest ranking, most decorated InVitro in the history of The United States. I don't know where they are going to put you, but I doubt you will be hidden away. They are going to want you out front somehow. Equal opportunity in the military. Interviews with the heroic InVitro. And how you will hate it all. Even if you get back to the Saratoga, there will be another layer of command between you and the 5-8. There are going to be layers of security and protocol between your duties and walking along the pier with me in Maine. I hope I can stay your three o'clock buddy, but I know that you will probably be unable to stay mine. Even if you wanted to be."

"Three o'clock buddy?" he asked.

"The truest friends are those people you can call at three in the morning. And, I want you to know, I thought of that before I ever read it anyplace else."

This was new stuff to McQueen. He wanted to consider the concept. People you can call at three am; who aren't surprised or angry when you do. I bet West would really appreciate that. Calls from the 'Old Man' at 0300. But then again....I can see Kylen rolling over in bed and handing Nathan the phone saying: 'It's Coop,' and then rolling back over and going back to sleep without missing a beat. They will probably always have three am friends; accepting it as a reality like the sun coming up and of equal importance. Oh yea, she is a Little Puke all right. Geez, McQueen, open mouth, insert foot, chew vigorously.

As usual Kylen had already moved ahead. "Politics and misery make strange bedfellows. Isn't there a line about war doing the same? If there isn't - there should be. You know, McQueen, I sometimes think that we both need to wear signs around our necks that say "Under Repair." She paused and prepared herself to speak an uncomfortable truth.

"I recognize certain facts," she said. "I recognize that we are both sitting here in Dale Steinbeck's kitchen due to some pretty outrageous circumstances. The circumstances of the war and the peace conference - the very fact that my family lives in New England," she chuckled. "If we would have met any other way .... If there hadn't been any aliens .... If I was living on Tellus .... If, somehow, you had been made the C.O. of the 58th. And if you were posted to sentry duty. I may have met you .... If there had been some official reception on Tellus perhaps .... We'd have been introduced by Nathan. If that would have happened, you would have been stringently polite .... I'm sure that the Marines have the protocol all laid out. 'Recommended Customs When Meeting the Family of Subordinates' .... You would have taken my hand, made a minute's worth of 'Pleasure to meet you' small talk and then passed me off to the next person in the receiving line, mentally crossing me off the list of dull civilians to whom you had to make your manners. Happy to be done with me and hoping that there wouldn't be dancing after the dinner. If… If...If..." She gave a sardonic smile.

McQueen was flattened by her seemingly casual analysis. Kylen was absolutely correct in her assessment, and it hit him in the solar plexus. If my leg hadn't been blown off. If she hadn't spent almost a year and a half in the mines. If she hadn't met me half naked and high. If she hadn't held my head while I puked my guts out. If she hadn't recognized the Goethe quote. McQueen shook his head. I have wanted so many times to be rid of her. To not have to bother. But here I am again, sitting with her in someone else's kitchen, after midnight, drinking scotch .

"If," he whispered.

"It sounds like we are going to break out into a Kipling recitation. 'If you can keep your head..., '" she said.

"I don't know Kipling," he admitted, once again glad for her rapid-fire change of direction.

"British; The Raj in India. Victorian, therefore sentimental by definition. Unfortunately, made far too charming by Disney. But he did write some great short stories. Fables. A few really good poems and verses. One in particular is titled 'If' - which like Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' has been watered down and trivialized by overuse and bad readings. I've been reading that poem a lot lately, but he doesn't need to know that, she thought. Kylen placed one of her calloused and battered little hands over his.

"Part of it goes: 'If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them: 'Hold on.'"

During the brief speech Kylen had gripped McQueen's hand almost as tightly as she had at Thanksgiving. He was again taken aback by how well Kylen had come to know him. McQueen could think of nothing to say. Kylen came to his aid with a light touch. She changed her tone.

"Look him up. Dale is bound to have a volume or two in his library. He is a 'Captains Courageous' kind of guy." Kylen paused again. They had gotten off topic. It was not the point. Not the point at all.

"So, tell me, Six," Kylen prompted.

"Tell you what?" McQueen responded

"Tell me why you don't think I should take Howard up on his offer to work for Intelligence." Her voice was smooth and reasonable, but the demand was clear.

"You and I know, Kylen, that they want information that they think you may have," he responded with an equally reasonable tone. As he spoke, he started to pick leisurely at the dessert she had cut and placed before him, sculpting the whipped cream into small peaks. "They can get that from you without you signing on, even as a civilian. You are working closely with Howard as it is, so, why is it that you wish to sign on - to work for us? That is my question."

Kylen stared into her scotch. Hoping for a vision. She knew that she didn't have an answer. And she knew that McQueen knew it too.

Next : Chapter Thirty Two

Previous : Chapter Twenty-Seven

Home : Space:Above And Beyond Fan Fiction Stories