The characters and situations of 'Space: Above and Beyond' depicted in this story are legal property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Production and 20th Century Fox Television and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement intended.
Rated PG-13: Language
The following is a glossary for those who aren't as familiar as some to military jargon:
Rack - bunk
Shit-on-a-shingle - chipped beef on toast
Bug juice - U.S. Navy Kool-Aid that tastes awful and is a good degreaser
Chigs - alien enemy with whom we are currently at war
Red Stink Creatures - slang for what the Chigs call humans
Wheels up - air/space craft flying
Mikes - minutes
Head - toilet
APC - armored personnel carrier
Six - as in 6 o'clock on the dial/ behind
Recon - reconnoiter
In-vitro - artificially gestated human
Tank - see In-vitro
NB - natural born
MARINES DON'T CRY
"Sheesh, Coop! What did you do, shove road kill up your ass?" complained Paul Wang, waving a magazine wildly in Hawkes' direction. Vanessa Damphousse was making small gagging noises into her pillow in the next rack, all the while Hawkes sporting a proud grin.
"I think I've outdone myself! Shit-on-a-shingle with a bug juice chaser. Ahhh…that's what I call pure olfactory art."
The champion master of flatulence on the entire ship, let alone the 58th squadron, was hands down Cooper Hawkes, who claimed to have supernatural bowels. This was not the first time he had bombed their berthing area.
"Now why can't you do that to the Chigs when they're around?" said Nathan West. "Talk about red-stink-creatures. Open that vent, 'Phousse. Hell, hard vacuum the compartment," he said, spraying underarm deodorant wherever he could without getting too near Hawkes. Col. McQueen chose this timely moment to stick his head through the hatch to announce the day's schedule, as was the routine most mornings.
"Alright, listen up. Wheels up in 25 mikes." McQueen wrinkled his nose and settled his gaze on Hawkes. "Why the hell can't you use the head like any other normal person?" McQueen didn't have to be told who the culprit was. When you spend enough time together in APCs and simulators, you get pretty accustomed to your squad mate's scents and peculiar habits. "Wipe your six and meet the rest of us in the ready room. Now! Let's move it."
It was the start of another beautiful Marine Corps day.
And it ended like so many others did lately - morning briefing, recon and patrol the current sector, return and debrief, head to Tun Tavern. Sadly, liquor allotments were becoming alarmingly low, and the poker games changed quickly from betting cash to swipes on a drink card. To the bartender's good fortune, he was suddenly a very important and popular member of the crew.
"Shit or get off the pot, Hawkes. Ante up."
Col. McQueen, in one of his rare appearances at the card table, was waiting to start. Patsy Cline was singing about falling to pieces in the background. Shane Vansen, swaying gently at the jukebox, had scored a digital recording from a drive specialist working in this sector. Some of the crew weren't as enamored of the classic tune as Shane was, but no one was going to go and tell her about it. One unfortunate crewman cut off Patsy in mid-croon and became conscious with a bloody nose. Shane takes her Patsy very seriously.
In true Hawkes fashion, a slow grin began to spread across his face as he picked up his cards. "Alright, I'm done playing with you, Coop! What kinda poker face is that?" Paul started to get up, but McQueen told him to "sit down Marine," he had most of his winnings.
"Yes sir," he said reluctantly, casting a foul glance it Cooper.
"What?" chuckled Cooper. Feigning inexperience, he really was becoming quite good at the game. He was smart enough to realize that you could get the other players to fold just by smiling. Maybe one day they'd catch on, but until then, Cooper would continue to expose his pearly whites.
It was this time together in the evenings when the 58th let their hair down. Perhaps they didn't realize it, but the stories they shared about themselves together in friendship during this stressful period of war made them close to each other, perhaps even closer then family. The music, the dull rumble of the Saratoga's drives, the gentle murmur of the tavern clientele - and of course a few stiff ones - helped to put everyone at ease and loosen their tongues and inhibitions.
"Colonel, maybe this isn't the time or place, and if you don't want to talk about it I understand…. but I was wondering."
Shane returned to the table as everyone's attention was diverted from their cards to a nervous Damphousse, who was having trouble looking McQueen directly in the eyes. "I don't know if I like the sound of this, Lieutenant," McQueen said, a slight smile appearing on his face. He took a pull at his scotch and shrugged. "But I'll bite. I'm feeling friendly tonight."
"Well, it's about… a past relationship."
McQueen looked up at Vanessa. "Can you be any more vague, Damphousse? I'm good, but I can't read minds yet."
Distracting those at the table who were interested how this dialogue would turn out, the sound of two Marines arguing at the other end of the room was starting to grow in pitch and volume.
"I'm telling you, mine is bigger."
"Bullshit! Mine is!"
"Put your liquor card where your mouth is."
"Here, I'll show you," The two guys stood up and started to unfasten their belts. Vanessa looked at the two buffoons, them clearly having had enough to drink.
"They wouldn't," she said, her eyes wide as saucers.
"I hope they do," said Shane smiling, leaning back in her chair and folding her arms, enjoying the show.
"There goes the card game," muttered Cooper, putting his cards down on the table. The whole bar had gone quiet and everyone watched as the would-be strippers removed their belts. They held them up together, comparing lengths.
"You see?" exclaimed the drunker of the two triumphantly. "I told you - mine IS bigger!"
And with that, they collapsed into each other's arms, laughing at their brilliant humor until they were gasping for breath.
"Oldest one in the book," said Paul, shaking his head and smiling at the still shaken Vanessa and the disappointed Shane.
"Real nice," said Shane, "Get a girl all keyed up and let her down. Idiots." The noise level returned to normal and the two comedians were kindly but forcefully invited to go to their berths to sleep it off.
"Never a dull moment," said McQueen, taking another drink.
"Let's play Foosball," said Paul.
"Sure. What the heck. I'm getting another beer. Anyone else?" asked Nathan as Cooper, Paul and Shane got up from the table.
"No thanks," said Vanessa.
"I'm good," said McQueen. Vanessa broke the awkward silence by looking at McQueen and asking, "Well, sir?"
He frowned back at her. "Well what? Please get to the point, Lieutenant."
Why can't these kids mind their own business? It's hard enough commanding these hardheads without getting all close and personal.
"Before she was shot down, Winslow told me you were married once, and that… it still bothers you."
Karen Winslow was a member of the 58th for a while, but had the misfortune of being killed by an enemy ace - one which Colonel McQueen shortly thereafter removed from God's universe.
"Karen had a big heart - and a big mouth."
Karen had just wanted to get to know the Colonel a bit better, and was a little too forward, some would say. After she had apologized for her behavior, McQueen had volunteered some information that he was divorced, but in a limited quantity. As squad mates and good friends will do, Karen spoke briefly of this to her friends. McQueen took another drink, took a breath and exhaled toward the table.
"I met my wife at flight school graduation. Her brother and I flew together in the same class…"
Tyrus McQueen was fresh out of flight school, regaled in full dress blues with his classmates at the graduation reception. Patricia, a senior at Penn State and the brother of Ty's best friend Robert April, had just walked through the doors with her mother and little sister, and man did she look beautiful.
"Put your eyes back in your head, Ty," Robert said to McQueen, "She's my sister, for crying out loud."
Shaking himself out of his reverie, McQueen looked at Robert, disbelief showing in his eyes. "Bob, I've looked at your family picture hanging over your bunk all through pilot training, and that is not Patricia."
"That shot was taken when I was in high school. Do the math. That is Patricia." Trying not to stare, Ty glanced at her throughout the evening. He was used to being around natural-borns, but not many females, and none as easy on the eyes as this one in particular. There would be no use even thinking of any kind of relationship with an NB, let alone an attractive Colonel's daughter who could pick and choose from any man she wanted.
Finally, rejection be damned, he screwed up his courage and asked her for a dance, and to his surprise, she readily accepted.
"I'm Tyrus McQueen."
"I know who you are, Lieutenant," Patricia said, grinning slightly. "Bob told me all about you."
Oh, great, he probably told her about that stunt when he got locked in the female head for 16 hours. Oh no, suppose he told her that he was an in-vitro? No way in the galaxy was he going to make it anywhere with her. Tanks would disgust her, like all the other women he'd met.
"You're older than your classmates, Tyrus. What did you do before the Corps?"
"I was in the mining industry off-planet. I figured this was a better career choice. And please call me Ty."
"Alright, Ty. Tell me about yourself."
Talking to this woman was so easy and enjoyable that the evening was ending almost as soon as it started. They shared so many of the same interests and hobbies that the subject of family never entered the conversation. He was amazed at how different and wonderful it all was.
McQueen looked at his watch and swallowed. "I'm sorry, Patricia. I took up most of your time this evening. It's really not like me."
"Don't be silly, Ty. If I didn't enjoy your company, I wouldn't have stayed." He made awkward hand gestures and disjointed phrases trying to say goodnight with dignity, but failed miserably. She shocked him by giving him her comm. number and saying to call her soon for a cup of coffee. She turned and waved as he stared dumbly at her retreating, beautiful, incredible (he ran out of adjectives) figure. He was numb.
He would see her anytime he had liberty from then on, and she actually made time for them to be together. Just him, Tyrus McQueen, tank, leatherneck. Unbelievable. How could anyone as lovely, understanding, and intelligent as she see anything in him? A second class citizen? It wasn't fair to her, not letting her know his past. She had parents, siblings, a family to belong to. What addition could he possibly make in her life? He had to tell her. She deserved to know before this went any further. Steering their discussions around his background was proving to be more and more difficult, and he knew that she was aware of it.
He should never have let it go this far. Damn, he knows he loves her and has to tell her something that would separate them forever. Damn.
They were watching the sunset, not saying anything in particular, enjoying the feel of the warm grass crunching beneath the blanket. Just the closeness of her body made him ache. "You know I feel strongly about you."
She reached for his hand and squeezed it gently. It was getting hard for him to continue. She kissed his cheek, enjoying the scent of his aftershave.
"I know. I've grown close to you, too. I'm not one to rush anything, but you're different, Ty. I can talk to you. You don't expect anything of me."
God, this was hard enough. Couldn't she just be angry or mean-spirited? Did she have to be so sweet and understanding?"
"I'm a Tank."
Did he really just blurt that out? Yes. There. He said it. Out in the open. God help him. Here it comes, the yelling and screaming; how could he do this to her? What will her family and friends say? I can't believe I went out with you. He couldn't look at her. He wanted to die.
"I know," she said.
He slowly looked up into her face. "I know, Ty."
She put her arms around his neck. He couldn't move. No one had ever touched the back of his neck.
"You …you know? What … how …. "
"Shh. Only small-minded people judge others concerning their origins. My father is a colonel in the Marines. He has fought alongside in-vitros, known in-vitros who have died protecting him and their country. Ty, my father has always instilled in me and my family that all people should be judged as individuals. Do you think so little of me to think I could judge you on something you had no control over?"
He just stared at her, a myriad of emotions crossing his face; pride at her steadfastness and honesty, disbelief at her bold acceptance, unrequited adoration at her flawless character. He leaned toward her and met her with their first kiss, hardly believing he could feel so wonderful without exploding.
Eight years later he was signing divorce papers. After the wedding, all was bliss as far as McQueen was concerned. Being a Tank his entire life, he didn't notice some of the crude and unkind remarks directed at him. But Patricia did. He would continue what he was doing as if nothing was said. She felt so terrible for him that as decent as he was, as dedicated to protecting others in spite of their unfeeling insults, he had to endure such behavior. It caused her physical pain to see. She ignored the remarks directed at her - at first. Her heart told her that these people just didn't understand how things were supposed to be, that all people were human and deserved equal treatment. But as the years passed, anger and resentment that she knew she shouldn't feel began to surface. Love was stronger than a few insults, wasn't it? Why should she feel guilty at the feelings she was having if she felt so strongly for Ty? He knew the struggle she was going through. They had discussed at length the pitfalls of entering into a mixed marriage, and both had courageously, possibly she more than he, gone forward into a relationship destined for strife. He made a home as normal and as comfortable as he could, spending more and more time with her through the years as her conflicting emotions began to drain her, and slowly build a barrier between them. Even after marriage and individual counseling, it was obvious that they were in trouble. Ty came home one evening after a long and tedious mission, greatly looking forward to a quiet weekend with Pat, just the two of them, and saw a taxi cab parked in front of the house. He stepped inside and found a still, well dressed wife sitting on the couch with a suitcase at her feet. She faced slightly away from the door gripping a tissue tightly in her trembling hand. It was obvious she had been weeping.
Ty's heart filled with ice.
"Pat. No." She couldn't meet his gaze. She couldn't feel any lower than she did then, but she was at her breaking point. Even her close friends had been lying to her face about their support for her marriage. But she had never shared the last reason for her despair with Ty. She knew he would be devastated.
"I'll spend more time at home," he reasoned. His voice shook. "I'll make you feel like you were the only one on earth, I'll .. I'll…".
His sobs shook him as he stood in the doorway. She had never seen him cry before; didn't think he was capable of it. He had been hiding it from himself that this could happen, the inconceivable idea that he would be without Pat, the idea that she would reject him.
"Please don't, Ty. I'm so sorry. I was going to leave a note, but you deserve better. It's not you, It's me. I'm weak. Oh God won't you please stop?"
He tried to get a grip on himself. Perhaps he could convince her that it wasn't too late. He had to have at least some hope.
"I could have taken all of the racism and prejudice," she said, "if that was my only problem. I should have told you sooner. I thought I would eventually see how ridiculous my reasons are … Oh I'm rambling like an idiot."
She took a deep breath as Ty crossed the room and collapsed into a chair. "I know how badly you want children. I do too! We'd have wonderful children."
Ty tried to interrupt.
"Let me finish! It would have been difficult enough for our children having parents of a mixed marriage. Right? But since you can't have children naturally, and we would have to use in-vitro fertilization … It's just too far removed from being 'natural'. God, that sounds terrible. Can you see what I mean? Any of it? It would help if you could understand."
He shook his head as he remembered the tender nights lying in bed together, discussing their future with their children. He had always assumed that his infirmity wasn't a problem with Pat. He had no idea she had been keeping this revelation to herself. How can he fix this? How can we ever get around this?
Pat picked up her suitcase and started crying again.
"I've got to go."
He looked at her with swollen begging eyes.
"I can't live without you. I'll do anything. We'll adopt! Please, please don't do this." Never in his life would he have imagined being brought to this level, pleading and begging. He'd always been proud, hardened and tough. A Marine! The world was against him and he must be strong and unyielding to survive. But Pat had changed all that. And soon he would have to change once again.
He watched her as she ran down the walk to the awaiting cab, jerk open the door and get inside. She shut the door and part of her skirt hung outside. It fluttered as she put her head down, and the car pulled away.
"I haven't seen her since. And I don't want to, for her sake. She has a new life. I won't cause her any more pain."
McQueen's jaw was tight as he looked into his glass. He had never let his guard down since. He vowed he never would again. The Corps was his life now, his family, his purpose. There was room for nothing else. He was distracted once, for a time filled with the only joy he had ever known, in which he shared his life with another, having been one person, of one mind, as fulfilled as he ever was and ever will be. He won't be distracted again.
"This doesn't leave the table, Lieutenant. That's an order."
"Yes, sir," Vanessa said, wiping the last tears from her eyes before the others came back. McQueen shuffled the deck for another round
© Jef Reagan September 2003