Disclaimer: All characters from Space: Above and Beyond belong to the writers and producers of that series. They are used without permission, for the beauty of the words, not monetary gain.

Again, many thanks to Sandra, for all the beta reading and to Wheels for encouragement, chats, and general fun.

Rating: PG/R (for language)



Phyllis Christie

   The Moving Finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

                                                                                from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Earth, November 2, 2063

The big man used the tip of his cigar to burn the coded message that had arrived moments ago. He watched in delight as flames licked at the small sheet of paper in the ashtray on his desk. Four down, one more to go, he smiled. The message had carried the news of Carmine Delaney’s death. Now, there only remained Dr. Jennifer Kirkwood. How she had escaped from Kordis, he didn’t know. The woman seemed to have more lives than a cat, but even cats ran out of lives, especially scarred cats. He laughed as he puffed on his cigar. He could almost smell the fear and burning skin. Too bad he hadn’t known she was going to cause him so much trouble. He would have snapped her neck when he had the chance.

He had thought he was safe. If she was going to find out about the genetic tampering that had taken place at most In-Vitro Authority facilities, it would have turned up when she researched her book. Ever since, that damn book had been published, it was a thorn in his side. Up until that time he had things well under control. First the book, then those doctors rallying public support for in-vitros after Chartwell’s assignation. Only their deaths would assure him that he had covered all their bases.

Reaching in his pocket he pulled out an aqua leather jeweler's box containing an engagement ring. He had picked the ring with the utmost care. The stone: a perfect blue-white diamond, large enough to speak of wealth and power, but not gaudy or over-stated. Smiling he knew that Diane would love the ring.

The press had been surprised when Diane Hayden began dating Carleton Stryker. It gratified him to know that all the secrecy he and Diane had gone to over the years had paid off. They had been working toward this moment for a long time. She, moving openly through Aerotech and using the In-Vitro Rights Movement to launch a political career. He, always behind the scenes, knowing where all of Aerotech’s skeletons were buried. It had helped him to amass a fortune. Together, they had planned Chartwell’s death and the manipulation of the elections. Together, they would be a power that no one could beat. After tonight, when they announced their engagement, the universe would be theirs.

The Saratoga November 12, 2063 - 1400 hours

Jenny and the Wildcards were sitting around their quarter’s enjoying some of Hawkes’ antique discs. The six of them loved the beat of many of the old songs. Hawkes was pounding on the table as if it was a drum and Wang liked to pretend he was playing a guitar. The other four singing along. They had been making so much noise, they almost didn’t hear the klaxon begin ringing and the call that come over the loud speaker: “BATTLE STATIONS, ALL HANDS REPORT TO BATTLE STATIONS.” As the huge ship shook, the young people looked grim. Jenny ran for Sickbay and the 58th, grabbed their flight gear to head for their Hammers.

The Saratoga jumped and bounced, as the battle raged on. Jenny fought to keep her balance at the scrub sink, without contaminating her hands and arms. Doing surgery on a rocking ship had become the norm, of late. As she slipped into her gown and was gloved by the nurse, she gave one last silent thank you, that this time she was with her squad instead of having to watch from the distance of thousands of MSK’s away. She took a deep breath and closed her mind to the Wildcards. She refused to think about the exposed bridge, where she knew Ty was helping coordinate the battle. She had her own battle to fight. Right now it was trying to find the metal that was buried in this young lieutenant’s abdomen, and it would take all her concentration.

The Saratoga, 1545 hours

An explosion made the huge space carrier buck harder than before, and everything went black. “Nobody move,” Jenny called out. “Where’s that back-up generator?”

“It takes 40 seconds to come on line, Ma’am,” Sgt. Winston Trosper, the young Corpsman, who was assisting with the surgery called out.

“That’s too long, I need light,” Jenny called to the circulating nurse. “There’s a piece of this kid’s Hammer lodged next to his aorta!”

As someone was counting down the seconds until the generator should come on-line, Jenny silently cursed a war that would suddenly turn a general surgeon into a vascular surgeon. If that metal had pierced the major artery, she knew that she was over her head.

When the lights came back on, everything was eerily quiet. The ship had stopped rocking and there were no guns heard firing. In that moment, Jenny had a flash of the bridge bombed and on fire. Dead bodies everywhere. “*No! I won’t think about it. He can’t die now.”*

She forced her mind to the task at hand. With a sigh she gently pulled the shrapnel from beside the aorta and watched as the large artery pulsed, but didn’t pump blood into the exposed cavity. “Is he maintaining his blood pressure, Corpsman?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the young Corpsman grinned back at her.

Jenny gave a silent, thank you to the god of surgery. After checking the x-ray at hand, she continued to dig pieces of splintered Hammerhead out of the young Marine’s side. His damaged cockpit had buckled under the stress of separation from the fuselage. He was lucky that normal atmosphere had been restored to the docking bay, or he would have died instantly.

On the bridge of the Saratoga all eyes were trained on the sight of a Chig craft 40 feet away from the command windows, their crash shields open. Targeting computers were down and not due back online for another 20 seconds. Ross, McQueen and the con officer stared into the face of death unless they could launch torpedoes manually.

The Saratoga, November 12 - 1930 hours

The rumor swept the ship. An enemy aircraft had been captured. The 58th had brought it into a secured hanger deck. Excitement and speculation moved on the heels of the rumor. Everywhere people were talking about it. Some wanted it destroyed in an act of personal vengeance for the heavy losses Earth had been suffering in the last months. Others, looked thoughtful, speculative, not as easy to voice an opinion.

The Saratoga, November 13 - 2200 hours

“Well, Jennifer, how pleasant to see you again,” Howard Sewell, smiled at the woman who was leaving the Mess Hall.

“Howard? What are you doing way out here?” Sewell had been one her father’s graduate students at Berkeley. Jenny had never liked him, though he had made it clear the first time they met, that he was attracted to her.

“Business. You appear to have gone native, my dear.” His voice oozed with his own self-importance, as he gave her a head to toe scrutiny. Taking in her rumpled scrubs, lack of make-up and hair still damp from a quick washing in the scrub sink before leaving Sickbay. “Though you are as beautiful as ever.”

“Cut the crap. The only reason you ever had any interest in me was because you thought it would gain you points with my father.” Jen clenched her hands in the pockets of the lab coat she had thrown over her scrubs. She didn’t like or trust Sewell, but she wanted to know what he was doing here.

“Jennifer, you sell yourself short, that wasn’t the only reason I was attracted to you.” His wolfish grin surprised her. “I’m not stupid. It didn’t take me long to realize that your father didn’t give a rat’s ass about you. Now I, on the other hand...”

“I am not interested in you or your supposed interest in me.” Jen’s gray eyes turned almost black as she glared at the man blocking her path. His crack about her father had hit home, but she wasn’t going to let him see that it had hurt. “Now if you want to tell me what Aerotech is doing on the Saratoga that’s another thing. Otherwise, good night,” she began to shove past him.

“I’m here to take over the alien craft. We, Aerotech, will be working on it.” Sewell glowed in his power. “I’m not at liberty to discuss anything further, especially out in an open corridor. Now, if you would like to join me in my quarters, we could have many things to talk about.” He ran his finger down her arm.

Jen hid the smile she felt. Her ploy had worked. Howard Sewell hadn’t changed in 10 years. “Thanks, but no thanks. You’ve told me all I want to hear.” She moved past him as quickly as possible. “By the way, give my best to your wife.”

“That creep giving you any trouble, Dr. Kirkwood?” Cooper Hawkes had watched the conversation at a discrete distance.

“Thanks, Coop,” Jenny smiled. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

“When are you going to realize you don’t have to settle for a... the Product, as we say at the Company,” Sewell, called after her. He grinned, as he saw the anger on the young man’s face, knowing Hawkes knew he had been insulted, but didn’t understand how.

“Easy, Hawkes,” Jenny warned, as they walked away from Sewell.

The next morning Jenny heard that Commodore Ross had thrown Aerotech off the Saratoga. Not long after that she was told to report to the engineering group that was going over the Chig aircraft.

“Lieutenant Stroud, I’m not sure how much help I can be with this. My undergraduate degrees were in chemistry and biology, but that was all based on Earth sciences. It’s my understanding that so far no new elements have been discovered. The rumor from Aerotech is that the Chigs are able to combine elements making new compounds that Earth has been unable to duplicate, though.”

“We need a medical expert on this one, and you’re part of the 58th. Since you guys are going to be taking this craft out, you should be in on all of the planning,” Melissa Stroud added. “Besides that kind of talk is music to my engineering ears. I think you’re just what we’re looking for. This craft has some kind of bio-neural inter-link we hope you can help us with.”

That was the first Jenny had heard about the covert bombing strike. She went to Commodore Ross to make she was included on the mission. It would be the second one she had flown with the 58th. The first had been to take supplies and new troops to one of the planets in the Kordis system. They had taken out wounded, as well. Though Earth Forces were being pushed back, they were leaving specialized squads of recon Marines on many of the planets as they left. It was a 21st century version of the coast watchers that were used in WWII. Everyone hoped that they would still be alive when Earth retook that part of space.

Ty was going to be furious with her for going over his head about this mission, but that was just too bad. She wasn’t going to be left behind this time. The Angels had left her on Earth because she was still on medical leave when they went on their last mission. If she hadn’t been mugged, she would have been with them on the Yorktown.

Saratoga, November 19, 2063

They had been working hard for six days to get ready for the mission. With any luck, in ten days, just before the launch window closed for the Cerrus System, they would be ready to go. Jenny was spreading herself thin, between working in Sickbay and working with the 5-8 on the Chig bomber. Sleep was a luxury that she couldn’t afford at the moment. It was a few minutes after midnight when she ran into Melissa Stroud and Paul Wang in the corridor, and learned that the launch window was closing. The mission had been moved up and no one had bothered to tell her about it.

Jen pounded on McQueen’s hatch. She was angry, and hurt.

“Who’s at my hatch?” McQueen called out. He had just gotten back from a late night meeting with Ross. He was going on this mission with the kids and he had things he needed to get done.

“It’s Jenny,” she called back.

Ty opened his door, a frown on his face. Jen marched into his quarters without waiting for an invitation. He could tell by her posture that she was angry. He had hoped to avoid this confrontation. Someone had let slip to her that the mission had been moved up. Damn, this is the last thing I need to deal with at a time like this. He had hoped she would be busy in Sickbay until after they left.

“What were you going to do, McQueen?” She turned on him giving him both barrels. “Just let them leave without telling me? Unless communications have broken down completely on the Saratoga, a mission that I was assigned to, will be leaving at 0645 and no one bothered to inform me of the moved-up date.”

“You are out of line, Lieutenant Commander.” McQueen had decided that if he dealt with her as Lieutenant Colonel to Lieutenant Commander, he just might be able to pull this off.

“Pardon?” He had caught Jen completely off guard. She had a sinking feeling he know exactly what he was doing.

“I realize that in the Medical Corps, there are certain laxaties allowed, but you are on a fighting vessel now, and we are at war.” He could see her pale as she realized he wasn't going to let her argue. “Tomorrow is one of your regular day’s in Sickbay. That is where you can best serve the war effort.”

“Colonel,” Jen could play the soldier game if need be. “The Lieutenant Commander wishes to protest the Colonel’s assignment of the Lieutenant Commander to Sickbay tomorrow. The Lieutenant Commander is needed with her squad.”

“Stand at attention, Lieutenant Commander,” McQueen was frantic to get her out of his quarters. He believed that the odds were against any of them returning from bombing the Chig held planet. There was no way he was letting her go on this mission. It had taken all his self control to stay away from her these past weeks. His eyes drifted to his wedding picture. Think of Amy, and all the havoc that you let her cause in your life, and you can do this.

Jenny stood very straight, eyes on the far wall. Fighting to keep a tight reign on her emotions. She could feel tears prickling at the backs of her eyes. In all the months since she was mugged, she had cried only once and that had been at Gloria Collins’ memorial service. Now was not the time to start. “I’m only going to say this once, so get it the first time around.” McQueen kept his eyes glued to the picture on his desk. But the harder he looked, the more he saw the picture beneath. He could smell the soft rose fragrance of Jen and it was doing things to his body he didn’t want to happen. Part of his mind called him a fool for not taking this woman to his bed and spending what could be his last night alive, as he wanted to, buried deep inside of her. There had always been an attraction between the two of them. He wasn’t sure Jen was aware of it, but it was there. And it frightened him. “We are going on that mission and you are staying here. If all goes as planned, we will be back in a few hours. If the unexpected happens, we will have no use for a doctor. I don’t even want to see you on the flight deck tomorrow morning.”

“What?” The significance of what he said sunk in. “Commodore Ross is letting YOU go, but I’m forced to....”

“That will be all, Lieutenant Commander,” McQueen cut her off. When she didn’t move he added “Dismissed!”

When his hatch slammed, McQueen gave a sigh of relief. He would have toughed it out for as long as it took, but it would have cost him to do so. He knew he was doing the right thing. Jen had no business on a mission like this. Hell, none of us do, but someone has to do it, he thought as he opened his right hand and realized that he had been gripping his fist so tightly that the guitar pick Ross had given him for luck, had left deep grooves in his palm. Staring at the pick gave him an idea. He moved to his desk and began to quickly write.

Half an hour later he put down his pen and read what he had written. With a sigh, McQueen opened the picture frame on his desk. He pulled out the photo of Jenny and himself. Oh, Jen, he muttered. The confrontation had caused a deep pain in his insides. He knew that if they beat the odds and returned, any chance of the friendship they had had in the past would be dead, if she spent the night in his bed. Jen was no one’s one-night stand, not even his. He knew from past experience that once a desired woman was obtained, the desire was gone. He kept telling himself sending her away was the right thing to do. Why wasn’t he believing it, and why wouldn’t the pain go away? After all, he reasoned. These deep feelings for Jen were sexual and nothing else. He had learned to control his desires long ago.

He was doing it for Jen’s welfare, McQueen added for good measure. If he did as he wanted, it would have put her in further danger. There were no secrets on a ship the size of the Saratoga. If she had spent the night in his quarters, it would have been all over the ship by lunch tomorrow. It would bring more attention to her, when Ross and General Savage were working to keep her from being noticed.

Jenny walked stiffly out of his quarters. I won’t cry, I won’t cry, she kept repeating it to herself as she hurried through the night time quiet of the ship. She finally reached the alcove, high above the port docking bays. She slid to the deck, not bothering with the small ledge behind her. Staring out the window she felt the tears filling her eyes. Blinking fast, she refused to let them fall.

Oh God, it’s happening all over again! Not only was the past repeating itself, but Ty was acting so strangely. She remembered the 127th calling him The Iceman, behind his back. She had never understood the reference. She did now.

McQueen found Jen sitting on the deck, with her head against the window, an hour later. If he backed away she would never know he had been there. He knew from experience, that sitting in that space you can hear someone coming, but Jen was so lost in her misery that she wasn’t watching her six. Part of him wanted to yell at her for not being more careful. But he had a gaping hole in his middle that had been viciously ripped out when they had argued earlier and he couldn’t fight with her anymore. He saw the tears streaking the side of her face and her breath was ragged from trying not to cry. He was no good with tears. Amy had tried to use tears on him, when she wanted to get her own way, but had soon discovered that tears made her in-vitro husband helpless, and therefore angry.

“Jen,” he whispered before he realized he had decided to stay.

“What are you doing here, Colonel?” She turned her face away from him, embarrassed that he had found her like this. She was fighting for any shred of dignity she could get.

“Probably the same thing you are,” moving closer he sat beside her. This had been a place that had given them both comfort. McQueen knew that Jen had been staying away since he had shown it to her. He had been relieved, but after the disagreement in his quarters, he was glad to find her here. Knowing that he wouldn’t have searched her out, he thanked the Fates that he didn’t believe in, for her presence.

“I’ll leave then,” her voice cracked. “You’ve got a mission to fly in a few hours. And I...a..a.”

“Wait,” he pulled her back to the deck, facing him. “If we don’t....If I don’t, make it back tomorrow, give this to Commodore Ross.” He pulled an envelope out of his flightsuit. He had planned to give it to Ross in the morning before he left, but it would carry more weight if she gave it to him.

“I can’t do this,” she whispered as she pushed back into the corner away from Ty. “I just can’t.” Pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms around them, she buried her face on her knees and cried. In all the time he had know her, he had never seen Jen really cry. At times, he had seen tears form in her eyes, but she always got them under control before they fell.

“What can’t you do?” McQueen moved closer to her. “Jen, talk to me.” He felt as if someone had taken a K-bar to his insides as he watched her. He realized he was the cause of the pain she was feeling, but didn’t understand how or why.

“It’s happening all over, again.” She looked up, but still had her arms wrapped tightly around herself. “Please don’t do this to me,” Jen looked at McQueen in supplication.

“Don’t do what to you, Jen?” The pain he was feeling was so intense it drove him to reach for her. He had enough control to only cup his hands over her shoulders instead of pulling her into his arms as he needed. “I’m not doing anything to you.”

“You’re making me stay behind!” Jen cried out. “Please, don’t do that to me again.” She moved to her knees and gripped the collar of his flightsuit as fresh tears rolled down her face. “Please, Ty, don’t make me watch while you all die, again.”

“Jen?” McQueen didn’t know what to say. The raw emotion on her face was cutting him deeply, but he didn’t know how to respond.

“That night, that terrible night. I took the Windswept out past the Isthmus. I had to be with the Angels, during that last battle, even if all I could do was watch. But my heart was out there on the edge of the solar system. There was the black sky filled with stars and a huge battle going on light years away. I could see it all. Little pin pricks of light would flare then die out, over and over again. Each time, I knew someone died. Then there were a few large explosions as the carriers were hit. That’s when I knew, none of you were coming home. I can’t go through that again. Please, let me come along?”

“If you had been with us on the Yorktown, you’d be dead.” McQueen remembered being thankful that Jen had been mugged, when he had awakened in the hospital at Loxley and learned that the Yorktown had been destroyed. “Everyone on that ship died. There hadn’t been time to launch escape pods.”

“Damn it, Ty! Don’t you understand? I don’t care!” Jen still gripped his collar, but his hands had moved to cover hers. “I can’t watch from a safe distance again.”

“No, Jen, you’re too important.” He pulled her hands free of him, but still held them tightly. “You’re needed here and on Earth. It’s people like you who will help change.....”

“NO!” She shook her head. “This isn’t about a cause or mankind. This is about me. What I need. I can’t lose you.....all, again,” she begged. “Please, just this once let it be about me?”

“It is about you, Jen. You HAVE to live.” He didn’t tell her he was speaking for himself, for what he needed. To know that if she was alive, and safe, it would allow him to do anything he needed to do. The letter that was crumpled between them was asking Ross to take care of her, if he wasn’t here to do so. Telling his friend, as best as he understood himself, what Jen meant to him, and asking him to guard her.

“Please, Ty, let me come along and we’ll all live or die, together.”

He shook his head no as Jen cried harder. McQueen felt out of his depth. He had no idea how to give comfort. Her crying was digging at the hole that he had felt ripped out of him when they had argued in his quarters. At a loss for anything else to do, he pulled her close. It was like magic. Her warm body filled the painful place in him and the pain turned to feelings of peace and warmth. He pulled her closer as she buried her face in his neck. He could feel her tears against his skin. It was a new sensation. He had thought it would be embarrassing, but it wasn’t. It added to the peace they were giving each other. His hands moved in her hair and up and down her back. He remembered her rubbing his back in detox.

Was it really this easy? Was this all there was to it? Was this how one gave comfort? McQueen couldn’t believe how simple it was. All the years he had marveled at natural-borns and their need to give and receive comfort. All those years he had pulled back. Afraid to touch. Afraid that something in him would break if he did. He’d been so wrong. He pulled her close to try to fill the gap that he felt in himself, to make himself feel better. It didn’t seem right, that since he was causing her the pain that his should be relieved, too. He had never seen the connection before. Hell, why would he? Being a Tank, he was well versed in pain, but no one had ever taught him compassion. Maybe that was the secret to it all. The pain needed to be a shared thing in order to give real comfort, instead of the hollow words that can be given so causally.

“There’s nothing I can say to change your mind?” Jen’s voice was raspy from crying.

“No.” Then, McQueen played his ace card. “You need to stay here. If we’re going to make it back, we’ll need all our concentration. If I’m worrying about you, I won’t be able to do that.”

She pulled back in shock. Looking him in the eyes and seeing the truth in what he was saying. He was still holding her and her face was inches from his. “I won’t argue anymore,” Jen lay her head on his shoulder and put her arms around him. Her eyes still wet from tears. She knew he was right.

“It’s going to be okay, Jen,” McQueen whispered, as he picked her up and sat her on his lap. “You’re going to be okay.” He leaned back against the bulkhead, his legs stretched out in front of him. If he looked to the right he could see the stars, but tonight he didn’t care about stars. If this was his last night alive, he wanted to spend it with his arms wrapped around this woman. An hour ago all he could think about was taking her body. Now, he just wanted to hold her and feel the different kind of relief she was giving him.

“I think I’m beginning to understand how Prometheus must have felt. Except, it’s my heart, not my liver, that’s going to be torn out on a regular basis.” Jenny rubbed her wet face against Ty’s front. “I’ve gotten you all soggy.”

“I won’t tell anybody, if you won’t?” He kidded as he looked down at her.

“Talk to me Ty, about anything, just talk to me.” That’s how Jenny fell asleep. To the sound of his voice, as it rumbled through his chest, under her ear. Held close and warm, by the strange cold man who she had come to care too much for. A man who would most likely die and leave her alone, sometime tomorrow.

McQueen looked down at the sleeping woman in his arms. She was peaceful at last. How had it all happened? How had he become so involved with this woman? He had promised himself not to care for anyone ever again and here he was caring about too many people. Caring in ways he never imagined for himself. Jen was right, they probably wouldn’t return from the mission tomorrow, but he couldn’t let his squad go without him. He understood how she felt on that issue. But she would be safe. Ross would see to that.

In the past, when he began to care, he would walk away, or find a rule or regulation to make it impossible. But here he was, risking his life to be with five young people who he had known for a matter of months. He had told Ross that he loved them, and he guessed he did in a way, but it wasn't something he wanted to look at too closely. Then there was Jen. He leaned his cheek against the top of her head as she slept curled against him. This is the better way, he thought. He knew he cared about her more than he should. More than was good for her. It was too complicated to think about, tonight. He was glad he had found her here, glad they had this time together. If he was going to die, his last night wouldn’t have been spent alone.

McQueen’s watch beeped at 0500. He had dozed off and on, during the night, but had enjoyed holding Jenny as she slept.

“Jen, wake up,” he called softly.

“Hmm,” her eyes blinked as she tried to orient herself. For a moment she thought she was back on the ISSCV that had taken them off of Kordis.

He watched her as she woke-up, something he had done before, once on a couch on Catalina, many times in Collins' bunk on the Yorktown, and the last time when they had sat here. You could tell a lot about a woman by how she woke up. Amy had always been grouchy in the morning, never wanting to touch or be touched. Jen was all soft. When she woke, she reminded him of her cat, Cinders. She looked and moved as if she wanted to be stroked.

“Ty, did you get any sleep at all last night?” She was finally awake and realized where she was.

“I’m fine, but you have to listen to me, this is important.” He pulled the crumpled envelope from between them. “Promise me you’ll give this to Commodore Ross if anything happens to me.”

“All right,” she nodded. Today she was able to keep her tears under control. They were still sitting on the deck. She on his lap, and he with his arm around her.

“Jen, there is one more thing I want you to do for me, and this time I’m asking, not ordering.” He knew that she would and could disobey an order, even from him. “Please don’t come to the landing bay. Watch from here if you must. I need to be able to concentrate completely from here on out, if there’s a chance we’re going to make it back.”

“All right,” she touched his face as he stood with her in his arms, then put her on her feet.

“I have to go,” McQueen was already changing into battle mode.

“I know,” she felt him pull away from her. He made it almost to the steps, when she called out to him, “Ty, wait!”

“Jen I have to go,” he was caught by surprise as she ran to him and hugged him close. He thought he felt the brush of her lips on his cheek, but it happened so fast, it could have been wishful thinking.

“Come back to me, all of you!” She called out as he moved down the stairs

“I promise to try,” looking up he saw her one last time.

Holding the crumpled letter McQueen had written to Ross in her hand, Jenny moved back to McQueen’s alcove. Her back against the bulkhead, she slid to the deck, all the energy drained out of her.

“What do I do now?” She looked to the stars for an answer. Her insides hurt and she could hardly breath.

“Gloria, I wish you were here for me to talk to,” Jenny whispered. “I’m so confused. I feel, I feel....” Jen tried to deny, one last time, what had been simmering close to the surface for the last month.

“So, that’s the way of it?” Jenny muttered. Damn you Gloria! You knew! You knew that I had fallen in love with him. Why didn’t you tell me? Jen shook her head, not knowing if she should laugh or cry. That’s why after we returned from that first trip on the Yorktown, you stopped trying to fix me up with your men friends? All this time, I thought it was because you had suddenly become too involved with Philip Smyth. Jen could picture Gloria now, sitting up on a star somewhere, laughing her head off. She had always accused Jenny of being a bit obtuse where men were concerned.

Way to go, Jenny, my girl. Fall in love with a man who not only doesn’t understand the emotion, but who doesn’t see you as a woman, she thought cynically.

“Time you faced some facts,” she murmured as she leaned her head back against the bulkhead and let her mind travel where it would. She had always been one to look at herself carefully and admit what she saw. Why had she hidden this from herself for so long? Now that she was seeing the truth, she realized that she had loved him for a while now. Smiling she thought of all the times his voice had echoed in her head when she was trapped on Kordis. At least that was finally making sense.

She had thought she was immune to this kind of feeling. She had watched her father become a dried-up bitter old man, long before his time, because he had been in love. When had McQueen snuck past her carefully constructed wall? No, there is more to this problem than that, but Jen was unable to put her finger on what was still bothering her.

Shoving the thoughts aside, she looked down at the docking bay, where she knew an ISSCV was being readied for take off. “Okay, McQueen, it’s like this,” she whispered to the stars. “You and the Wildcards come back to me, and I won’t bother you with tears or emotions ever again. I’ll say it just this once, then never bother you with it again. I love you,” she smiled. “Pax, McQueen?” She flattened her hand on the window. Then she got up and left the alcove. She had made her deal with the Universe, and would honor it.

By 1145 a rumor began circulating the Saratoga. Transmission had been broken off abruptly with the 5-8, and nothing had been heard since. Jenny head the rumor in the Mess Hall at noon. There was the one rumor, then silence. No one knew or heard anything else. Whatever was happening on the bridge, was being kept there.

The Saratoga November 19, 2063- 1730 hours:

By dinner time, Jenny couldn’t take it any longer, and went to see Commodore Ross. “Sir?” She knocked on his ready room door.

“Come,” he called out as she opened it. “Ahh, Dr. Kirkwood, what can I do for you?” He had left the bridge to get away from Sewell. It was like having a snake on his bridge. Aerotech had its own agenda for being here, and Ross would have liked to figure out what it was.

“Please, come in and sit down.” Ross looked the Doctor over carefully. She looked tired and worried. “Can I offer you something to drink?” He reached for the bottle of rum that was in the cabinet behind him and poured himself a very small amount.

“Do you have any scotch?” Jenny never drank scotch, but Ty did. She needed something that would bring him closer to her.

“I happen to keep a bottle here for a friend. I doubt he would mind if I gave you some.” Ross smiled as he began to pour.

“Make it a very small one,” Jen held up her hand as he started to pour.

“What can I do for you, Doctor?” He had an idea she had come to ask about the 58th, but hadn’t decided what he was going to say, yet.

“It’s about the mission that left this morning,” she held the glass to her nose and inhaled. The scent was so familiar. She remembered the first time she had picked up McQueen’s glass to smell his drink. They had been talking in the Asteroid Bar, he had given her an odd look. She had done it countless times since, and he had begun taking it for granted. At times, in the middle of a conversation, he would hand her his glass, knowing that she didn’t want to drink it, just to smell it. At first, she assumed it was because she liked to drink cognac, where the scent is a part of the appreciation of the drink. She came to realize that it was just another thing to remind her of the man. “I heard a rumor this afternoon and wanted to verify it with you.”

“What exactly did you hear, Doctor, Jenny, if I may?” Ross hadn’t missed the way she had smelled the scotch, nor had he missed the fact that when she had taken a tiny sip it made her eyes water. Scotch wasn’t this woman’s drink.

“I heard that the 58th suddenly stopped transmitting, but I’ve heard nothing since then. Please, Sir,” Jen met Ross’ gaze. “You assigned me to them. I’ve come to care about them a great deal. Is there anything you can tell me, Sir?”

“Commodore Ross?” The door was opened, and Howard Sewell let himself into the Commodore’s ready room. “Jennifer, what a nice surprise. I see your taste in men is improving.”

“Mr. Sewell, this is my office. As you can see I am having a meeting with one of my officers, if you’ll excuse us?” Ross pointedly stared at the door.

“Interesting meeting,” Sewell cocked his eyebrow, and with a grin left the room. “If you can get it.”

“That snake in geek’s clothing!” Jenny rolled her eyes, as the door closed. She would have liked to ask about Sewell’s presence on the Saratoga, but it wasn’t any of her business.

Ross leaned back in his chair and laughed. “Jenny, you have summed him up very well. I knew the first time we talked that there was something I liked about you.”

“Is that your polite way of avoiding my question, Sir?” Jenny looked at Ross as she took another sip of her drink.

“I’ve been called many thing, but polite isn’t always one of them.” Ross could see the fear that was in the woman’s eyes. She had been hiding it at first, but didn’t have the control over her emotions she liked to think she did. “This is my ship, if you were over-stepping your boundaries I would tell you. What I’m about to say is to go no further.”

“Yes, Sir!” Jen gripped her glass, afraid of what she was going to hear.

“The rumor you heard was correct. The alien ship carrying the 58th did stop transmitting at 1123 hours. According to what we’re picking up on LIDAR, the ship was destroyed.” Ross watched as Jenny’s eyes grew very bright and she quickly blinked back tears. “But it’s believed that the crew got away via an escape pod. We are trying to retrieve them now.”

“Damn him!” Jenny never swore, but she was beyond caring. “That idiot! He said that if the mission went bad, they wouldn’t need a doctor, so he wouldn’t let me go as planned.”

“Back up there, Jenny,” Ross was mystified at the outburst. “What is this all about.”

“McQueen,” Jen thumped her glass on Ross’s desk and began to pace in front of it. “They’ve crashed on a strange planet, with no medical personnel and I’m stranded here.”

“Col. McQueen was right in not letting you go on this mission, if he hadn’t stopped you, I would have.” Ross was watching her movements. The sorrow of moments ago turned to anger. “The only reason I gave you the go-ahead in the first place was because I thought your knowledge of the bio-electronics that run that ship, might increase their chances of survival.”

“But, Sir...” “Though, I have had the same opinion of Col. McQueen, at times. It is inappropriate for you to speak of him in such a manner.” Ross had trouble suppressing a grin, no wonder Ty was in such a rotten mood lately, if he was having to deal with this woman’s temper on a regular basis. She was one of the few people he had met in a long time that wasn’t intimidated by the Colonel. It must be driving him crazy.

“Sir, I apologize for my outburst,” Jen sighed as she was swamped with sorrow. “But I had to sit on Earth, and watch the battle that killed the Angry Angels, and now this. It’s hard!” She returned to her seat across from Ross. “Is there anything I can do to be of help?”

“Pray, Doctor, pray,” Ross looked at the woman in front of him. “I’m sorry about what happened with the 127th, Jenny. I know from experience, that it is harder to sit and wait, than to take part in the action.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Jen gripped her hands to keep them from shaking. “Do you have any idea when you’ll know something?”

“We’ll be entering the Cerrus System in about an hour,” Ross decided he would be truthful with Jen. “We should have a better idea of what to expect when we get there. By the way, the reason we are going after the 58th is because of information brought here by Sewell,” she did a classic double take making Ross laugh again.

“He wouldn’t do something like that unless there was something in it for him,” Jenny couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“My sentiments, exactly Doctor. If you should hear anything, I would like you to tell me, and only me.” Ross drilled her with his Commodore look. At that moment Jen knew just how alike, McQueen and Ross were.

“Yes, Sir,” Jen stood and headed for the door. “I’ll let you get back to business. Thank you for your help, Commodore.”

The battle was raging again, though the ship’s guns were strangely silent, for the moment. Jenny had heard the call for fighter squadrons an hour ago and had headed to Sickbay. She was relieved to get out of the empty quarters she shared with the 58th. The room had been big and silent with them still lost on a strange planet.

She could have waited at the docking bays, with the crowd of others, that had heard the rumor that the Wildcards were being brought back in, but she refused to jinx it. She would wait, in Sickbay. Joan Brill was triage nurse. She would send word as soon as there was information to be had.

Then the doors to Sickbay flew open, bringing in the Marines. Jenny looked quickly at each face to assured herself that they were still alive. McQueen was being helped by Hawkes. Nathan looked pale and exhausted, as if someone had drained the heart out of him. Shane and Vanessa were holding on to one another as if each was afraid the other would disappear if they let go. Paul walked as if on auto-pilot, not seeing a thing. A deep pain burned into his eyes.

Jenny met Hawkes as he led the group in. “Over here, on the table,” she ordered. She and Hawkes helped a bleeding, limping McQueen onto the exam table.

“Jen, I’m fine,” McQueen tried to sit back up. “I need to take care of Paul......”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Jen shook her head as she pushed the exhausted man back down. “We’ll take care of everybody, don’t worry about that, Colonel.”

“Colonel,” Hawkes interjected. “Let Lady-Doc take a look at you.” Other medical personnel were scrambling to take care of the other Marines.

Jen was already wiping away dirt to get a better look at his head wound. “Why are you always leading with your head, Ty? There’s just so much banging it can take.” Corpsman Trosper was cutting away McQueen’s shirt and his right pant leg, so the doctor could get a better look at the damage.

“Stop,” McQueen grabbed for Jen’s wrists, but missed, she had anticipated his move and turned away. “I’ve got more important things to do. You can take care of me later!”

Jenny turned back toward the man who was fighting to sit up on the bed, but instead of the wet cloth she had had in her hand a moment ago, she’d pulled a hypospray from her pocket. Stepping close, with one arm around his shoulders, she pressed the medication to his neck. “I’m sorry,” she whispered as the tranquilizer shot into his system.

“No!” McQueen gasp in surprise. He felt his body begin to tingle, and grabbed for the front of Jen’s scrubs pulling her down with him. “Jen, no!” he gasped as he fought the effects of Sleepez. “Jen, take care of....of....Paul......” he whispered. His eyes not leaving her face, and his hand still curled in the V of her neckline.

“Shhh Ty, rest,” her lips brushed his ear. One hand moved through his hair and the other covered his hand, where he was holding onto her. “I’ll take care of him for you, I promise. Stop fighting the drug and sleep. I promise.” His eyes met hers one last time before he let the drug take over and passed out.

“Is he going to be all right Ma’am?” Hawkes looked worried when he saw McQueen lose consciousness.

“He’s going to be fine, Coop.” Jen didn’t look up, her eyes never leaving the face of the sleeping man whose hand she held pressed against her. “I gave him something to make him sleep, so I could take care of these wounds.”

“He’s not going to like that!” Hawkes shook his head. The Lady-Doc had more nerve than he had. “No, I don’t imagine he will.” Jen shrugged her shoulders as she reached for some forceps to begin digging pieces of alien metal out of McQueen's thigh. “Hawkes, get yourself checked out by Commander Brill, I’ll finish up here.”

“Dr. Kirkwood,” Commodore Ross had come in behind the Wildcards. He had seen the exchange between McQueen and the Doctor, and had been amazed that anyone could sneak up on the Colonel the way Jenny had. He wished he’d been close enough to hear the whispered conversation between the two. “When you’re done here, I’d like you to stop by my quarters and give me a report on them. I should be up most of the night, so take your time and do what’s needed.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jenny looked quickly over her shoulder as she finished working on McQueen’s leg. The Corpsman prepping the sleeping man’s arm and head.

Half an hour later Jenny entered the bay where Paul Wang was sitting on the side of the exam table. He had refused to let anyone near him. He sat motionless, lost in thought.

“Paul,” Jen called softly as she came to his side. Her eyes taking in his neat appearance. Something was very wrong here. “Paul, talk to me.”

“Ma’am?” He looked up with a vacant expression on his face.

“What happened Paul?” Jenny moved closer. “I know you’re hurt somewhere. Let me help you?”

“NO!” Paul wrapped his arms around his body. His eyes filled with anguish.

“My God, Paul! What happened to you?” His shirt had moved, and Jenny could see burn marks on his throat. She reached for his flight suit and began unzipping it.

“No! Go away!” Paul huddled in on himself. “Don’t look at me.”

Pulling a chair beside the exam table, Jenny took Paul’s face in her hands. “Please Paul, I promised Col. McQueen I’d take care of you. He’s very worried about you.”

“The Colonel?” Paul appeared to be in shock.

“Yes, Paul, he wasn’t going to let me take care of him, until you were taken care of. Please, let me get a look at those burns?” Gently Jenny unzipped his flight suit.

She gasp in surprise as she looked at Paul Wang’s chest and upper arms. He had hundreds of burn marks. Most of them were second and third degree burns.

“Paul, you should have let us help you sooner. Some of those burns are pretty bad,” Jenny shook her head as she started an IV, and began to cover the burns with gel-foam dressings.

“No one should take care of them,” Paul cried out and tried to push Jenny away.

“Please, I need to cover these so infection won’t set in and the gel-foam will help take away the pain.”

“NO!” Paul yelled at her. “I deserve the pain! I earned the pain!”

“There is nothing you could have done to deserve this,” Jen was furious that he had been treated so badly.

“Don’t you understand?” Paul gripped her by the shoulders to keep her away from him. “Don’t you understand? I talked. I..... talked. I deserve this and more,” tears filled Paul's eyes and he leaned his forehead against Jenny’s shoulder and cried.

“Oh, Paul, no,” She held him lightly to her. “You don’t deserve this. Shhh. It’s all right, you’re going to be all right.”

“No, Ma’am.” Paul pulled back from her, shaking his head. “I’ll never be all right again. They did this to me, until I couldn’t take it anymore. Then I...a...I...a..admitted to war crimes that were all a lie.”

“You did what you had to do to stay alive,” Jenny touched his face to get his attention.

“There are worst things than dying,” Paul’s eyes closed for a moment. “How am I going to face the Colonel?”

“Paul, he knows and I’m sure he understands.” Jenny knew more about McQueen’s experiences as a POW, than McQueen realized. She was sure he had been so worried about Paul, because he recognized another wounded spirit when he saw one. Unfortunately, without his permission, it wasn’t something she could discuss with Paul. Plus, she thought it would mean more to the young man if it came from the Colonel.

“Not Colonel McQueen. He’d never break like I did,” Paul shook his head. His misery at letting the older man down was as bad as anything he felt. “There is no way he would understand this.”

“That’s something you’re going to have to talk to him about,” Jen finished dressing Paul’s burns. “I do know that he would be here right now, if I hadn’t hit him with a sleeper. He was very worried about you. He fought the medication I gave him until I promised I’d come in and make sure you were all right.”

“You knocked him out?” Paul almost smiled at the thought of McQueen being subdued by the much smaller doctor, “he’s going to be pissed at you.”

“That seemed to be Cooper’s reaction, too.” Jenny straightened and ran her hand through the young Marine’s hair. “I’m going to give you something to help you sleep and take away the pain. In the morning, there will be time enough to start working on what happened. And Paul, I promise you, that you can get over it. It may not be easy, but you will put it behind you.”

Jenny had spent another hour with Paul. He was in bad shape. She could see why McQueen had been worried about him. He was suffering shock and depression. The burns would heal, but the damage done to his self esteem could have long term effects. Paul had been particularly worried about what McQueen would think of his behavior. It was clear that the young man held his commanding officer in high regard.

A few minutes later Jenny found herself knocking on the door to Commodore Ross’ quarters. “Come,” he called out.

“You wanted to see me, Sir?” Jenny knew that she felt tired, but the Commodore looked it.

“Have a seat, Doctor,” he indicated the chair opposite his desk. “How are they doing?”

“I kept them in Sickbay, Sir,” Jen explained. “Hawkes, West, Damphousse, and Vansen, could have been discharged, but I wanted to make sure they all slept. Besides, they needed to be re-hydrated and it’s easier to do it there. They’ll be discharged in the morning. The one who has me worried is Paul Wang.”

“He didn’t look good, what happened?” Ross was concerned about the young Marine.

“He was hurt badly,” Jen got up and began to pace. “Paul has what appear to be electrical burns all over his chest and upper arms. They’re mostly second and third degree burns.”

“My God!” Ross watched Jenny pace and fidget with her bracelet. “What aren’t you telling me, Jenny?”

“Commodore,” she turned, not sure what to say or do. “I can’t go over Ty’s head about this.”

“Come here and sit down.” Ross rose and lead her to a couch where he sat beside her. “Those burns weren’t sustained in the crash were they?”

“Please, Sir, let Ty be the one to talk to you about this?” Jenny’s voice cracked.

Ross reached for her hands and stilled them, “As I told you once before, you need to be careful, or you’re going to break that pretty bracelet. Now tell me what happened.” He saw the worry in her eyes as she watched him closely. “I have too much respect for Col. McQueen to try to come between the Colonel and his people. Whatever you tell me will remain between us.”

“They tortured Paul, until he broke,” Jen sighed. “I shouldn’t have given Ty that Sleepez. He knew what had happened, and I think that he may be the only one that can help Paul right now, though, I admit they both need rest at this point more than anything else.”

“Why did you knock the Colonel out?” Ross was sure that Jenny didn’t realize that she was using McQueen’s first name, as she talked about him. He knew, that she didn’t know that he and McQueen were friends. This was the first time in the three weeks she had been on board that she indicated in any way that she had known McQueen before, though anyone who read her service record knew she had been with the Angels.

“He would have refused care until his squad was taken care of,” Jenny shook her head. “I know he wanted to make sure Paul was all right. But, Ty was exhausted. He had blood loss, some metal in his calf and thigh, a gash in his right deltoid, along with a head injury from when the pod crashed. He would have pushed himself until he passed out.”

“I think you have our Colonel pegged. He can be bullheaded when he sets his mind to it,” Ross looked Jenny over. “Is that what the two of you were arguing about, when I came in?”

“We weren’t arguing, Sir,” Jen looked surprised. “I was giving him my medical opinion and he wasn’t agreeing, so I took control of the situation.”

Ross threw his head back and laughed. “I would love to know how you were able to sneak up on that man with a hypospray.”

“I didn’t sneak!” Jen looked indignant.

“All I have to say, is you’re damn lucky he didn’t break your arm,” Ross shook his head, still laughing. The doctor wasn’t going to tell him how she got past McQueen’s defenses. “He’s going to be angry with you in the morning.”

“Commodore, you’re the third person to tell me that since it happened,” Jenny stood. “This isn’t the first time I’ve had to take matters into my own hands regarding that man’s medical needs, and unless you transfer me, I doubt it’ll be the last. Doesn’t anyone around here ever tell him ‘no’?”

Jenny went back to Sickbay for a last check on her patients. Maybe that would help her sleep. Exhaustion hummed in her blood, as she wondered where all this would lead. She had tried sleeping, but had tossed and turned on her bunk. The rest she needed badly, eluding her.

Checking on McQueen first, she watched him sleep. The effects of the Sleepez keeping him in a resting REM state. He looked at peace. Jen reached out to lightly touched his face. Her hand stopped an inch from his cheek. No, I promised, she thought.

As she watched the sleeping man, she let her mind float, moving freely over all that she knew about McQueen and everything that had happened in the last year. Something still wasn’t right. There’s a piece of this puzzle that’s missing, but what is it? Something had been gnawing at her all day. She had chalked it up to worry for the missing people, but it was more than that. “No?” She whispered quietly as her mind came to rest. “It can’t be?”

Ty has changed? She felt her stomach clench as she forced herself to look at this new bit of information. He had learned to love, but he didn’t love her. Why should he be any different from any other man in my life? A bitter smile crossed her lips.

He loved the Wildcards. He really loved them. That’s why he went to Kazbek with them. McQueen, you and your squad were going to live or die, together. That’s what I had wanted to do, but you pushed me out, her mind screamed at him. He could no more have sent his squad on that mission without him, then he could stop breathing. McQueen finally let himself love and he was paying the price. Jenny couldn’t remember when she had felt more excluded and alone.

For a moment she was hit by a pang of jealousy. Did he love Vansen or Damphousse? Was he in love with one of those incredible women? No, she dismissed it, as the idea formed. She had seen no signs of it. But what about the missing Wildcard? What was her name, Kelly Winslow? Jenny had seen her picture. She was beautiful. But it still didn’t fit. McQueen wouldn’t let himself fall in love with a subordinate. Besides, Jen knew the kind of woman Ty liked. She had seen the picture of Amy that still sat on his desk. She had also, seen the way his eyes would follow a certain kind of woman, back in the early days of the Angry Angels. The tall willowy, blond, kind, always well rounded. The kind that none of the Lady ‘Cards were.

“Doctor?” Com. Joan Brill, RN, had been standing in the door of McQueen’s room watching Dr. Kirkwood for the last few minutes. She felt a bit like a voyeur. This looked too much like three weeks ago, except it had been the doctor sleeping in that bed and McQueen had been watching over her.

“Joan,” Jen turned and moved out of the room where McQueen was sleeping. “What can I do for you?”

“You can go and lay down, or I’ll hit you with a hypospray of Sleepez.” The tall nurse led Jenny down the hall to the room where the Wildcards were recuperating.

“Something tells me I’m not going to live that one down for a while?” Jenny grinned up at the nurse.

“That’s not true, Doctor. It’s Navy one, Marines zero, but whose keeping score?” she laughed. “I think it’ll be McQueen who’s going to have the ‘living down’ to do.”

“Oh no,” Jenny rolled her eyes. “I thought things that happened in Sickbay were confidential?”

“They are as far as we are concerned, but you forget, his squad and Commodore Ross saw you take him down.” Brill held out an extra blanket for Jenny. “I imagine Ross will razz the Colonel about this for a long time. They’ve been friends for years.”

“Commodore Ross?...Ross?” Now she knew why that name had seemed so familiar. “Is the Commodore’s first name Glen?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the nurse smiled. “Now, take this blanket and get some sleep. That’s an order, Commander to Lieutenant Commander.”

“Oookay,” Jen took the blanket from Joan. “I think I’ll just sleep for the next year or so, wake me when this all blows over.”

“Sorry, no can do, Doctor,” Joan laughed at the younger woman. “Chico Voss will be here bright and early to round and you should be here when he sees the additions you’ve made to Sickbay.”

Jen stepped into the room that held the sleeping Wildcards. She quietly checked each one before finding an empty bunk and curling up to fall asleep. Her last waking thought before she drifted off was, maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and find I dreamed all this.

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