Chapter Thirteen - T.S. Eliot

Kylen stood, half hidden behind the potted plants, watching McQueen through the glass wall of the gym. He was taller than she had thought. Tennis shoes, T-shirt, gym shorts. He was sweating and ragged and, to her, he looked wonderful. Dr. Dale Steinbeck stood behind her explaining the activity and the plan for Colonel McQueen's rehabilitation.

The therapist, a woman, tall, cool, patrician, assisted McQueen into his wheelchair. She looked familiar, but Kylen couldn't think of how or where she had met the woman. "A wheelchair?" she asked Steinbeck.

"About half the time. A little more, maybe. After his workouts and at the end of the day. It will be a while yet. Maybe next week. His balance isn't one hundred percent yet, and he pushes himself. They're done for this afternoon. Let's go say hi to your buddy." Steinbeck punched a plate on the wall and the doors swung wide. He escorted Kylen into the gym.

McQueen reflexively turned to see who had entered. His heart momentarily skipped a beat. He did not like getting caught and he was definitely caught.

McQueen had, for years, schooled himself not to expect things. To not expect things from people. Better to be occasionally surprised rather than more usually disappointed. McQueen tried to close people out of his mind. Dale had said that he was going to call Kylen. She would call or write ... or she wouldn't. McQueen had closed her out of his mind. It was best to keep things simple. Kylen had come and he wasn't prepared for how it made him feel. Warm with butterflies in his stomach. She looked wonderful to him. *"Kylen, my bad penny. My storyteller. Little pillar of fire. God, it is good to see her"*

"Conquer them each day anew, Colonel McQueen," she boldly spoke completing the quote he had given her through Steinbeck. *" Oh, but you are a clever man."* Kylen fought the desire to throw her arms around him and held out her hand as she crossed to him. McQueen shook her hand. He was seized with the desire to pull her into a hug but, again, as a reflex he suddenly stiffened his arm keeping her at arms length. His action drove Kylen's arm back into her side. He saw disappointment flash through her face only to be immediately replaced by a smile. McQueen felt uncomfortable that he had somehow let her down.

"I stink," he said to cover the abruptness of his action.

It satisfied Kylen, who had actually been surprised when she felt the split second of his small tug. But she had felt it and to her it was the equivale nt of a kiss from the reserved man.

"Colonel, I grew up with six men in the household and over a hundred head of cattle." She inhaled theatrically. "You smell like home, Sir," she teased. It had always been Kylen's way of life to confront the unpleasant. She would never be a woman to ignore the elephant in the living room. "Let me see this Volkswagen attached to your handsome leg."

Dr. Dale Steinbeck was rightfully proud of his research, his clinic and accomplishments. But the man had a fine sense of humor as well. "Volkswagen????" Steinbeck said in mock indignation. "Child, that leg is a Porsche."

"I would hope not, Doctor. A classic ride to be sure. One of the best, but parts are expensive and hard to find. High maintenance. Hard to find a good mechanic. Colonel McQueen is a busy man. He doesn't have time to stop and give that puppy a tune up every thousand miles." Kylen continued the game.

Steinbeck leaned in to examine the leg in mock seriousness. "And a VW is more dependable and lighter weight," he said with fake consideration.

"Better in the snow." Kylen added. "No, The _man_is a Porsche, sleek and fast," she said with pride in her Colonel. "But the leg should be a VW." And the two started to chuckle.

"A hit, a very palpable hit," Steinbeck admitted.

Kylen and McQueen looked at each other in wonderment. Steinbeck had unknowingly fed into their code. "Hamlet," they whispered together.

"Spoken by Leartes, I believe," added Steinbeck.

"No, it's Osric. Leartes' line is: A touch, a touch, I do confess," spoke Kylen.

Steinbeck looked at McQueen. "Is she right?"

"I wouldn't bet against her, Dale." McQueen was enjoying the fact that Kylen was correct. Or he thought she was. He really wasn't sure himself.

Dale Steinbeck was delighted. He rarely had the opportunity for this type of sparing. He countered: "O O O O That Shakespehearian rag."

Kylen and McQueen picked up the line and finished it with him. "It's so elegant - so intelligent."

Steinbeck stopped and beamed at the two, but Kylen continued the poem solo.

"What shall I do now?" she said softly.
"What shall I do?" McQueen whispered, finishing the line.

It was a chilling question and the answers would affect them both. The two looked at each other and knew that the bond they had formed on the journey remained intact.

"No, I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be." McQueen spoke softly shutting out Steinbeck and speaking only to his own bad penny. She did not let him down. She caught both his humor and truth.

"Sometimes, however, to be a 'ruined man' is itself a vocation," she countered. Now, McQueen caught both her truth and humor and, perhaps, a cautionary note. He wasn't sure.

"Good old T.S." he said. They both shyly smiled. McQueen realized at that moment how just how different she was from "his Kids." They saw the commanding officer. She looked at him, at the person.

"Do we dare disturb the universe?" She asked.

This last made McQueen smile. An unknowing trigger of The War? Well, Kylen, I guess that you have disturbed the universe. I just try and clean up the mess. "Good old T.S." he again affirmed.

Steinbeck realized that the encounter had switched and that he was no longer included. He decided to take his leave when Amy appeared at his side. "Amy Langston this is Kylen Celina, The Colonel's friend. She will be visiting us regularly, I hope. I'd like for her to be involved with the rehab. "

Amy shook Kylen's hand rather coolly. "Pleasure to meet you Kylen. " Amy then turned to McQueen. "Get some rest. Tomorrow is going to be a workout. Aerobic training."

Steinbeck took Amy by the arm and left the room which was now empty but for Kylen and McQueen. Kylen had been racking her memory as to where she knew Amy. It suddenly hit her - McQueen's wedding picture.

"Of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to walk into mine." Kylen gave a fair imitation of Humphrey Bogart - for a young woman.

McQueen broke into a small smile. What a perspective.

"Lucy, Lucy." Kylen went into a pretty bad Desi Arnaz. "Lucy, 'jew got some 'splain'in' to do."

"Steinbeck is her cousin," McQueen explained.

"AND?" Kylen demanded.

"And nothing," he replied gently but firmly.

"God, how people must have hated you. Not just you, because you are an InVitro," she quickly interjected. "But both of you. So self possessed. So incredibly good looking. Accomplished. It must have hurt to look at you. Fire and Ice. Never say never, McQueen. A friend of mine told me that a few days ago." My God, was it only a few days ago? She touched the back of his hand with one finger.

McQueen looked into her eyes. "So, how are your dreams?"

Kylen snatched her hand away. It's useless to try and hide anything from him. He walked these halls way before I did. She gave a rueful smile. "They've been better. And yours?"

McQueen gave a snort and looked away.

"I understand congratulations are in order. Rumor has it that you are now a Big Bird," Kylen quipped

"What?" McQueen was incredulous.

"That you were promoted to Big Bird," she answered.

McQueen rather angrily searched her face for signs of insubordination and decided that she really was trying to congratulate him. She had just screwed up the terms. "The term is Full Bird, Kylen, not Big Bird."

"Oh, I'm sorry." Kylen responded. "All these new terms and ranks.....I get them confused." The utter ridiculousness of calling McQueen Big Bird hit her and she giggled. "Oh boy, I really am sorry."

"Apology accepted," McQueen said shaking his head at her well intentioned mistake. "No, the term is Full Bird," he repeated. "And you never use that term within the hearing of a Full Colonel. We don't like it. We find it disrespectful."

"Oh, I understand," Kylen said. " When you become a Full Bird Colonel you forget everything that you said about them before you became one. Huh?" McQueen smiled.
"And what the deal with all these different generals? I'm having trouble keeping them straight. I mean, I know the more stars the higher the rank but I can't remember which is which."

"This really matters to you doesn't it?" McQueen asked becoming more serious. He was touched that she would bother to learn such things for West.

"Yes, I guess it does." Kylen really hadn't thought about it before. She smiled at him.

"OK, It's simple," he instructed. "Brigadier, Major, Lieutenant, and just plain General. Just remember 'Be My Little General' and that will keep it straight."

"Be My Little General?" Kylen was tickled and she laughed again. "Too good! All Right, I understand. I promise I'll never call you a Full Bird again...At least not in public," she teased. " And another thing....Nathan's parents sent along his letters with my Dad, so, I know a lot about The Wildcards but he never wrote what your call sign is. I know everyone else's. That's the right term isn't it? Call sign?"

McQueen nodded yes then gave her the answer: "Queen Six."

"Chess? A location on the board?" She asked and he nodded yes again. "Well, you are out of luck there, I play, but not well at all."

They had verbally fenced and they had enjoyed the exercise. Now it was time to move on to other things and deeper realities.

"So, 'Six,' tell me about this leg." Kylen knelt down to give the prosthetic a closer look. It was a wonder of polymerics. There were several clear sections and she could see wires and circuits. It gave her an uncomfortable feeling. Frankly, it made her skin crawl. It looked like an AI had been skinned, which was, in a sense - in fact, what it was. Several generations advanced, but AI technology nonetheless.
God, he must hate that! She sat cross legged on the floor in front of him and looked up to find him watching her. Kylen was glad that she hadn't shuddered for McQueen was searching her face for her reaction. She met his gaze with an expression an impassive as his own. You taught me well, McQueen, she thought and racked her mind for something to say.

"What do you want me to say, McQueen? It's wonderful? It's horrifying? Whatever it may be, it is a means to an end." Kylen had a sudden thought and could not suppress the smile it gave her. "How many people can step on their enemies with every step they take?"

Luckily, McQueen was not a man who was given to gaping for he certainly would have done so. He had challenged her reactions with his look - all but daring her to be uncomfortable and repulsed but she had slipped around to his flank and ambushed him with a new thought.

"It is what it is, McQueen," Kylen interjected. "It's just one more compartment - one more door. You'll find a place for it sooner or later. You have a body and you have a soul. You have to decide what you are going to do," she added with a confidence she wasn't sure that she felt but that she wanted him to have.

"I'm an InVitro. My choices are limited." He paused and spoke almost to himself. "A body and a soul? There are people who would tell you that I don't have a soul," he said bitterly.

"Oh, please," Kylen spoke with irritation. "And like we believe that one. If people claim to believe that God created all things then He created you as well. The IVA may have designed you but they can not create life. They can't bring life where there is none. All of their building blocks were created by God. They are the same blocks God used to create me. Those people really piss me off. They don't want to believe that InVitros have souls but they will use all the genetic manipulation they can to have 'perfect' children. They breed InVitros with rare or valuable blood types so that they have a ready blood supply. So what are you, by the way? O negative?" McQueen nodded yes, but Kylen wasn't ready to stop.

"Oh, yes, space exploration, dangerous or toxic work and important blood types - we won't even get into the Freeport Offshore Organ Transplant Scandal or medical research or the military. Or the hundreds of other ways they have lined their pockets. They say you don't have souls so that they can look at themselves in the mirror. Sorry, but you did get me started. Don't feed me that tired old line. Not you. Not you. Just look in the mirror. You have a soul. And a big one at that. My God, Colonel, you are made from the same stuff as the stars. Don't put limits on God, McQueen. Just be still and wait."

This was tender ground for McQueen. It wasn't that he was agnostic. He believed that there was "something." He had seen enough in foxholes to appreciate people's beliefs and he had never been one to ridicule others' practices. *" Hey, whatever gets you through the night."* Simply put, McQueen believed that other people believed. Kylen seemed to. Damphousse certainly did. And Wang. No, he hadn't been joking when he had told The Cards that he would ask for forgiveness if the War ended. But McQueen did not believe that God - whoever or whatever God was - That God would concern Himself with T.C. McQueen.

"I'm not Job any more than I'm Hamlet. I rarely practice patience. I don't just sit and wait. Not anymore. That's one thing I learned as a POW, Kylen," he said pointedly.

"Who told you that Job was patient? No, Job was not patient. He was in pain, grief stricken, frustrated and had to put up with people pouring poison into his ear. Job was able to persevere - to remained steadfast." She paused, calming herself. "God did finally answer him, you know. Answered and blessed him."

He thought for a moment then responded. "For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."

Kylen did not agree with him. Damn, if it isn't our business, then who's the hell is it? She chose, however, not to make it an issue. "Lets get you a shower and get ready for dinner. You were right the first time, McQueen. You stink."

Next : Chapter Fourteen

Previous : Chapter Twelve

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