All characters and plot devices that are taken from Space: Above & Beyond are the property of it's writers, produces and the owners of the series. They are used without permission. No copyright infringement intended. Quotes from the following have been used (single quotation marks are used to denote quotes): The Book Of The Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, translation by Thomas Cleary; Romeo And Juliet by William Shakespeare; the song You Belong To Me by Pee Wee King, Redd Steward, & Chilton Price; Eldorado by Edgar Allan Poe; all are used without permission. No copyright infringement intended.

Rating R (sex and language in general)

Nightmares And Dreams


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

August 8, 2064, 0105 hours

Jenny ran out of the Wildcards’ quarters as fast as her legs would carry her. Her head swimming and her heart pounding. She had to get away. She had to hide, but where? Where on this huge ship could she be alone, and be sure McQueen couldn’t find her? Deciding the effort would be futile, if he wanted to find her, he would, she headed for her quarters. There at least she could lock the hatch.

It took forever to go the short distance to her cabin. Slamming the hatch and securing it, she took a deep breath and let the tears come. She’d made it. Here there were no eyes to watch or see her guilt. Moving quickly in the dark she leaned her head against her porthole. “Don’t let anything happen to any of them! I’ll never slip up again, I promise! Pax?” She begged as she lay her hand on the window to reaffirm her bargain.

“Oh God, Gloria,” Jenny whispered, as she got up and moved stiffly to her bunk. “I wish you were here to talk to. I’ve really made a mess of it this time,” she cried as she fell into a restless sleep.

“Hey, Kirkwood,” Gloria Collins stepped to the table in the Tun Tavern where Jenny was sitting. “Your mind go walk-about, again?”

“Hmm,” Jenny looked up at the tall blond who was watching her with some concern. “Gloria! I’m so glad to see you!”

“You just saw me ten minutes ago,” Collins grinned at her friend. “What happened that’s so important?”

“I don’t know,” Jen shook her head, feeling as if she was watching herself from a great distance. She looked around the Tun and saw all the people she knew. Time and space had taken a strange twist.

The Angry Angels were drinking and laughing at a corner table. Hawkes, West, Winslow, Wang, Vansen, and Damphousse were playing poker across from the Angels. Ross and McQueen were at the bar having a drink. Both the bartender from the Saratoga and the Yorktown, were working the extra large crowd.

Over in a far corner of the room, on a little section of dance floor, that looked like a slice of the Casino Ballroom on Catalina, Frank Savage and Patsy Howard were dancing. A soft sweet song was heard in the background. The shadows of a large dance band were moving on the wall behind the dancing couple. Jenny could just make out the words of the invisible singer, ‘fly the ocean in a silver plane, see the jungle when it’s wet with rain, just remember ‘till you’re home again, you belong to me.’

“This doesn’t seem right,” Jenny muttered as she tried to shake some sense into her head. Her eyes coming to rest on McQueen.

“You’ve gotta stop sniffing that anesthesia, Angel-Doc,” Collins teased. “So what was so important that you needed to see me?”

“I..well, I..” Jenny pulled her eyes away from the silver-haired man at the bar and met Gloria’s hazel ones.

“Oh, I get it,” the tall woman grinned. “So you finally figured it out, did you?” Gloria lifted her beer mug and toasted McQueen’s back. “So tell me is he a good kisser?”

“Gloria!” Jenny gaped at her friend.

“Yup,” Collins laughed. “That’s what I thought. Don’t tell Philip I said this, but McQ has a great mouth. I figured he’d be a good kisser. I know, I know, you're attracted by hands......of all things?” Gloria rolled her eyes.

“It’s not like that!” Jen argued.

“He’s not a good kisser? What a disappointment,” the sassy blond sipped her beer. “I guess it’s something you two’ll have to practice until you get it right. In the mean time, those hands can be doing.....”

“Gloria, shut-up!” The Doctor interrupted, “That’s not what I need to talk to you about.”

“Jenny, did that Iceman hurt you?” Collins shot McQueen’s back a dirty look.

“No, well yes, but it’s not his fault. I made this deal with the Universe months ago, ‘if it kept Ty and his squad safe, I’d never let my emotions show. Never let him know how much I love him.’” Jenny felt tears forming as she talked. “I didn’t mean for it to happen, really I didn’t. I didn’t tell him what I felt, but I let him kiss me.” She bit her lower lip as she tried to convince herself as much as Collins, that the kiss didn’t matter.

“A deal with the Universe?” Collins nodded her head. “That can be a tricky thing. The Universe makes it’s own rules, and bends them when it wants to. Did you kiss him back?”

“Yes,” Jen whispered. “I figure it doesn’t count though, because he doesn’t want me.”

“How do you figure that?” Collins had seen the looks McQ would aim at the little doctor, when she wasn’t looking. The Angels had a betting pool going, on how long it was going to take those two to figure out they were more than ‘just friends.’

“He got carried away,” Jen reasoned. “Because he’s afraid that the Wildcards have died on Demios,” she shrugged as if that explain it all.

“We’re talking about McQ here,” Collins reminded her friend. “The man doesn’t know the meaning of ‘carried away’ or ‘afraid.’”

“We were alone last night. I’ve always been someone he could count on. He needed human contact, so he kissed me and....well. When he realized......” She blushed as she moved her hand toward her left breast, remembering him pulling back as she had felt his warm palm through the lace of her bra. “When he realized who I wasn’t, or rather, WHAT I wasn’t, he stopped.”

“Pleeeaassee, give me a break,” Gloria cut in. “He did more than just kiss you, or you wouldn’t be this upset.”

“It’s not what you think.....”Jen flushed as the klaxon began to ring in the distance.

“You forget how well I know you,” Gloria stood with a grin. “Gotta run, take care. Oh, by the way, they’re safe, *this time.*” Then all that was left of Gloria Collins was the echo of her voice and an empty beer mug.


In the blink of an eye, Jenny found herself sitting in an empty Tun Tavern. She had to get to Sickbay, but she couldn’t move, her body felt too heavy. Taking a deep breath, she gathered her strength and pulled away from the table.

“Ouch!” Jen gasped as she fell out of her bunk, landing on the deck. The loudspeaker still going off. She shook her head to clear it, “Gloria?” It had been a dream, but it had seemed so real. It was weeks later before Jenny remembered all of the dream. And the importance of what Gloria had said to her.

August 9, 2064, Wildcards’s Quarters 0430 hours

The sound of the klaxon and the call to battle stations awakened McQueen from a restless sleep. He knew instantly where he was and what day it was. The Saratoga must be within range of Demios.

Sitting he rubbed his eyes and tried not to look across the room at Hawkes’ bunk. His dreams had been haunted by Jen in the few hours he’d slept. Jen sitting on the deck looking at him with trust. Jen’s soft mouth under his. The feel and taste of her. The look of fear and hurt when she’d run from the room.

“Damn,” he muttered. He could still smell her in the empty room. He had slept on the bunk where Jen had been sleeping when he came into the Wildcards’ quarters the night before. The bunk that had been Winslow’s and Jen’s. Pulling the pillow to his face, he took a deep breath. No wonder he had dreamt about her, her rose scent was on the pillow. He stood, quickly stripping the casing from the pillow and stuffing it in his flightsuit as he strode out of the room, taking what little bit of her with him that he could.

August 9, 2064, Sickbay 2135 hours

Jenny moved quietly from bunk to bunk, checking on the 58th. She had been in surgery when McQueen had brought them in. The day had been a messy one. Out of the 25,000 troops that had been left on Demios almost three months ago, only about 2000 were recovered. Many of those in need of emergency medical care. The casualties had been divided between the Sickbays of the three ships that had returned for them. Even now, many of the survivors were being sent on to hospital ships in safer areas.

“Jenny?” Vanessa Damphousse whispered, from the bunk below Shane’s.

“Shhh,” Jenny knelt beside the young woman. “How’re you doing there?”

“It was pretty bad, Lady-Doc,” the Marine shuddered as she remembered some of the things they had seen and done to stay alive. “You don’t look like it was much easier on you guys.”

“When your radio stopped transmitting, it was like living in hell. We had to keep fighting to take Ixion, when all we wanted to do was be here.” Jen leaned over and hugged the young woman, then sat on the deck, holding her hand. “We were so worried about all of you.”

“We were pretty worried ourselves,” Coop turned over to face the doctor, from the bunk next to Vanessa’s

“But you’re back,” Jenny reached for one of Coop’s hands as she sat between the two Marines, holding on tightly to what had almost been lost. “You’re safe now.” Jenny gave a silent *”thank you,”* that her slip of the night before had been over looked.

McQueen stood, at the partially opened hatch, with his hands fisted at his sides. He wanted badly to be part of the group that was on the other side of the door, but he had let them down. The 58th by leaving them on Demios and Jen by taking advantage of her. He couldn’t make himself go in. It had been one thing when he had gone in with Ross earlier, but now? No, not now.

“Colonel?” Joan Brill whispered to the man standing and watching. “Go on in, they’ll be glad to have you there.”

“No, Commander,” he turned back to face the sad eyed woman. “I don’t belong.”

“Ty,” Joan smiled as she watched him look with longing at the group through the small opening. “I think you’re wrong about that, but why don’t you let them decide?”

She watched as he reached for the door. His hand froze on the handle, as something very much like *pain* crossed his face, causing his features to stiffen. He shook his head as he turned and walked away. Watching the Colonel’s straight back as he disappeared out of sickbay, Joan felt a stab of loneliness that cut her to the heart.

*”No, it hadn’t been pain, she’d seen in his eyes,”* she thought. *But fear?”* What had McQueen seen that would cause him to react like that? She took a quick look in the darkened room, but all she saw were six people enjoying each other’s company.

August 18, 2064, Catalina Island 0800 hours

“I want to thank you for coming, on such short notice,” General Frank Savage smiled at the men who were seated with him in Jenny’s study. With one exception, the men who were gathered there had been part of a monthly poker game that had been going on for years. They were also, the men that Savage trusted the most.

“What’s this all about, Frank?” Thomas Harding, Admiral USN, asked. “Are you really going to get married, or is it just a cover to bring us all here so we can talk openly?”

“I’m getting married, Tom,” Savage grinned. “At least I will be, if Pats doesn’t take one look at you guys and decide she’s not up for a package deal.”

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” James Alexander, US Senator from Oregon, shook his head. He and Savage had been roommates at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, and friends ever since.

“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life,” Frank grinned at his friend. “What, no comment from you, George?” Savage looked at General George Robertson, USMC.

“Hell, Frank,” the Marine, snorted. “You know my opinion on marriage! A soldier is married to the Corps, all the rest is just a distraction.”

“Well, I’m looking forward to being distracted for the rest of my life,” Savage laughed. “Now, down to business, gentlemen.”

“Sirs,” Maj. Mark Gomez, Savage’s attache, stepped forward, along with another man. “I’d like you to meet Jack Longley he’s the genetic engineer who’s been working on the information that was sent to us from General Savage’s source.”

The slim red haired man stepped forward, a bit in awe of the company he was keeping now-a-days. When his cousin, Mark Gomez, had brought him in on this, he hadn’t realized the scope of the project.

“Well,” Jack pushed his glasses back on his face, as he dug through his notes. “I’ve been going over what was sent to me, and doing some research of my own. What I’ve found leads me to believe that the hypothesis set forth in this report may be correct.”

“Hrumph,” Gen. Robertson, shook his head. “Then you think Aerotech was breeding Tanks that would be addicted to phyllophetamines?”

“I didn’t say that, General,” Jack pulled out the graphs he was looking for. “All I am willing to say, at this point, is that the triplet amino acid in question, is present in all of the in-vitro DNA that I sampled, except Miss Howard’s. Of the seven other in-vitros I sampled, five had taken phyllophetamine and had addiction problems, at one time. Miss Howard is, by the way, the oldest of all the in-vitros sampled. And the only one to have taken the drug and not become addicted.

“It should be noted, that all of the natural-borns I tested have a double amino acid and of course there has never been an addiction reported in the natural-born population, even on large doses of phyllophetamine.”

“Where does that leave us?” Senator Alexander paced the room.

“Take it easy, Jamie,” Frank always thought his friend wasted a lot of energy pacing. “I am doing a quiet search for in-vitros that are within a year of Pats’ age, but it’s going to take time, if I don’t want to tip our hand.”

“Senator,” Dr. Longley added. “We need to find other in-vitros with the double amino acid and test them to find out if they are susceptible to phyllophetamine addiction. And we need to find out the reason behind the change of that amino acid from a double to a triplet. It could be nothing more than a fluke. An improved way of gene splicing that had a bad side effect?”

“No offense to your lady, Frank,” Tom Harding cut in. “But is this what’s really important? I’m more interested in the fact that troops may have been massacred to hide this, not what Aerotech may or may not have been doing.”

“It’s important,” Savage looked each man in the eyes. “Because there is only one person who has the power to disband the In-Vitro Health Facility; send them all out to vulnerable positions; and then get them killed. Only one person, that is, who has an affiliation with Aerotech, and that’s Diane Hayden, Secretary General of the United World Federation.”

“Jesus, Frank!” Jamie Alexander glared. “You sure know how to open a can of worms!”

“Got any bourbon around here?” Admiral Harding suddenly needed something to fortify him. “A sun is over a yardarm, somewhere in the universe.”

August 18, 2064, New York City, Diane Hayden’s home 1900 hours

“Carleton, I didn’t expect you until tomorrow,” Diane felt for her wine glass and sipped. She could hear Stryker doing a search for bugs. It told her this wasn’t a casual visit. “Have you eaten?”

“No, but I can get myself something later,” Carleton Stryker kept searching until all seven rooms were carefully checked and he was sure that all of the staff had gone home.

“Here drink this,” she offered him a glass of wine as he came over and kissed her.

“We may have trouble,” he took the glass from her hand and seated himself were he could hold her other hand.

“What kind of trouble?” Diane didn’t like trouble, and she hated surprises, especially this kind.

“Someone’s been doing some snooping around in-vitro DNA structuring from years ago,” he rubbed the soft skin of her wrist. “There’s also a quiet search for older in-vitros going on. I can’t pinpoint the source.”

“Are they going to be able to find anything?” Hayden felt recently, that too many things were slipping out of control.

“I’ve got a search of my own started,” Stryker kissed her fingers. “With access to Aerotech’s records, it should be easy for us to get to them first.”

“That damn Kirkwood woman is still alive, isn’t she?” Hayden vented her frustration. “I had hoped she would die on Demios, when I heard about it, but they didn’t have time to drop medical personal before the Chigs attacked. I’m not even sure she was scheduled to be in on the drop. Anymore overt attempts to rearrange her assignments will red flag them.”

“Too bad she wasn’t on the Eisenhower,” Stryker shook his head at their luck.

“The Saratoga has been very lucky, what if it’s luck were to change?” Hayden smirked, “what do you think, give you a little revenge, as well?”

“They’ve messed up our plans before,” Stryker thought back to how close he had come to being caught when he had injected that damn Tank with the mind control drug phyllophetamine-3. One of the few drugs in that family that didn’t cause addiction, due to its odd neutron, but it made in-vitros highly susceptible to hypnotic control. “But if we do it, we need to be very careful. With all that’s going on, I’m not sure how much longer we can depend on Wayne.”

“Hhmm,” Diane leaned her head back to think. “Maybe there’s a way we can get him out to the Saratoga, and get rid of a number of problems at the same time.”

“What do you have in mind?” Stryker could tell Diane had been giving this some thought.

“We could leak Operation Roundhammer to the Chigs, by way of the AI’s. The last message I had from them informed me that the Chigs blame Wayne personally for the encroachment on their space and the theft of the Sewell Fuel.

“What good is that going to do us?” Diane had been keeping secrets from him again, and he didn’t like it. They were a partnership and partners were supposed to work together.

“The Chigs will do anything to protect that moon of theirs, though I’ve no idea why. If they knew they could take out Wayne and prevent the invasion of their moon, they’d do it. From what the AI’s tell me, they have a special assassination team waiting for the chance to get at Wayne.”

“Will the Chigs be that easy to manipulate?” Stryker, liked the plan, but wanted to make sure it would succeed before committing to it.

“The Chigs have no more understanding of us than we do of them,” Hayden smiled. “I think that’s why they allied themselves with the AI’s, in the first place. I think it’s worth a try.”

“Is that Tank Lieutenant Colonel still on the Saratoga?” Stryker hated the in-vitro, not only for having interfered in Chaput’s assassination attempt, but because there was something about him that held a fascination for Diane.

“McQueen?” She grinned like the Cheshire Cat, “don’t tell me you’re jealous, my dear?” *“Yes, she would settle all her old scores at one time.”* Years ago when working in the In-Vitro Rights Movement, she had been attracted to the brooding Marine. He had pretended to be oblivious to her come-ons. The rebuff still stung.

Planet: Minerva, August 22, 2064, McKendrick’s Bunker

Major Cyril McKendrick looked around his bunker in the side of a burned out hill. He hadn’t spoken to another human being since those Marines tried to take him with them in late April. Too often, recently, his mind wandered back to the conversation he had had with that young in-vitro. At times he could almost see Lt. Hawkes as they had talked in the tank. Yes, he had been lonely then, and he was lonely now, but he was getting close to completing the task he had set for himself. Too close to give up, no matter how lonely he had become.

Tonight he had deviated from his well scheduled life. Bedtime could wait! More of the strange AI code was being transmitted again. He was working frantically to break the code. Over the last year, he had become adept at deciphering Chig messages, but this AI mumbo-jumbo had him stumped.

He was worried because there had been an increase in the traffic of messages over the last 24 hours. His eyes blurred as he threw down his pen. “I may be lonely, Lt. Hawkes,” McKendrick muttered. “But if I’m very lucky, I may have this figured out soon.” *“Well, Cyril, my boy,”* McKendrick grinned to himself. *“I guess I’m not to old to have an imaginary friend. As long as I realize he’s imaginary, I haven’t lost it completely.”*

Hours later, when he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer, McKendrick stood and saluted his Colors, “God save the King.” Turning toward the Seventh Calvary Flag that was hanging next to the flag of England and his regimental flag, he gave a moment of silent respect to the American allies. He had taken that flag off the old tank when it had given out thirty kilometers from his bunker when returning after taking the Marines to their landing zone. “When one is too tired to do ones job, even an Englishman must sleep,” he whispered as he headed toward his bunk.

August 30, 2064 New York City, Diane Hayden’s home, 2350 hours

The phone ringing woke Hayden and Stryker. It was the Secretary General’s private phone, used only in emergencies.

“Hello,” Hayden answered and listened as she received the news.

“What is it, Diane?” Stryker reached over and covered her hand that was resting on the phone that she had closed, ending the conversation.

“They say the Chigs want to open peace negotiations,” she shook her head. “I don’t understand, didn’t my AI’s do as I told them to do?” She stood to dress, “General Cartwright is bringing over a copy of the proposal. There may still be something we can do about this.”

An hour later, Stryker and Hayden sat in her study going over what the General had brought. Diane’s graceful fingers moving over the Braille swiftly and carefully.

“I don’t believe this,” Stryker murmured as he read further. “Diane, they want E. Allan Wayne present for the peace talks, and they’re going to take place on the Saratoga. The question is, are they genuine?”

“I doubt it,” Hayden shrugged. “Even if they haven’t gotten the information about the assault coming at them from their moon. I think it’s a way to kill Wayne. I think that’s their motive. Plus it will slow us down while we’re negotiating, so they can be moving troops.”

“Is this the result of your message to the AI’s?” Stryker wondered.

“Does it matter, the out come is the same,” Hayden smiled. “Wayne will be on the Saratoga, along with the added bonus of, possibly a major player in the Chig chain of command.”

“I have the man for the job.” Stryker grinned. “He’s careful, quiet and expendable. He can plant a little something in the room where the negotiations are taking place, and it’ll never be found. And I’ll plant a little present in his belongs, that’ll make him disappear.”

“I think I’m going to start tomorrow off with a news briefing. Bringing good news to the world,” she grinned at Stryker. “We’re ending the war. Will it be our fault those lying Chigs can’t be trusted, when they blow the peace negotiations to bits, along with the Saratoga?”

September 1, 2064 Saratoga, 1100 hours

“Damn that woman,” Commodore Ross glared at the television monitor in his office. “I thought she wasn’t going to announce this until we figured out if it was real or not?” The question was more rhetorical than anything else. Who was going to argue with Diane Hayden? The Secretary General had gone public with the peace offering by a lone Chig. *“Was she so interested in making peace, that she’d grasp at straws?”* Ross wondered, as he reached for an aspirin. His head was pounding and his throat was getting scratchy.

The night before, a single Chig vessel had approached the Saratoga, requesting permission to board, carrying with it a peace offer. Now all there was to do was wait until the Alien Interpretation Unit and people further up the chain of command, than the Commodore, figured out what to do. For the first time in over a year, the Saratoga sat anchored in space and waited. What they were waiting for would only be known in time.

Mess Hall 1340 hours

Ross and McQueen had sat down to lunch, but neither man was very hungry, though both knew they needed to eat. The Alien Interpretation Unit had arrived an hour ago. The ‘spooks’ as the shadowy men were referred to, came and went as they pleased. Seeming to have all the authority in the world, but never responsible to anyone.

“Dr. Kirkwood,” Ross called out. “Jenny, join us please.” He made it more of an order as he saw the doctor’s eyes move over their table then past them. The woman had seen them, but was going to pretend she hadn’t. The marked change in her since the siege of Ixion, made the Commodore wonder what was going on.

“Yes, Sir,” she pulled out a chair and sat. Jenny could feel her stomach clench. She knew McQueen was avoiding her, since they had let things get carried away the night before picking up the Wildcards on Demios. But then she had been avoiding him as well. “Glen, you look ill.”

“It’s just a headache, Jenny,” but even as he spoke, he could tell that he had managed to catch something.

“Excuse me for having to contradict the Commodore,” Jenny lay a hand on his forehead. “but, Glen, you’re running a fever.”

“You think so?” Ross sipped coffee that didn’t taste right.

“I know so,” Jenny smiled. “After you’re through eating, you should go to Sickbay and have them give you something. I think you’re coming down with a cold.”

“Actually, Doctor,” Ross stood and reached for his tray. “I’ll head there now. It’s going to get busy over the next few hours. Anything they can give me, to get through it, will be a help.”

As Ross walked away, the two people left at the table began to concentrate on their food. Both uncomfortable with being alone together, neither wanting to leave the other.

“I really need to be going,” Jen couldn’t meet McQueen’s eyes. She had lost her appetite and if she wasn’t going to eat, she couldn’t think of an excuse to stay.

“Wait, please,” the Colonel reached for her hand, but pulled his away before it came in contract with her. He could see the fear and doubt in her eyes and he couldn’t stand it. “I’m sorry for the other night, it shouldn’t have happened.”

“I’m sorry too,” Jenny fought to make herself smile. She knew why she had been avoiding Ty. As long as they didn’t have this discussion, she could pretend that it had only been their inopportune surroundings that had caused him to pull back.

“Jen, look at me?” McQueen whispered. He was tired of her avoiding him, when she always used to look at him with trust, even when she was angry with him, she had met him straight on.

“I...” She raised her chin defiantly and gray eyes met blue ones. “I’m looking at you.”

“I don’t know what came over me that night,” McQueen was ready to tell the biggest lie of his life, if it would bring things back where they belonged between them. “I wasn't thinking straight. I wasn’t myself.”

“If I remember correctly,” Jen sat very straight. His words had been the final blow to any hopes she had entertained that things were changing between them. “Ty, you weren’t alone in your actions. I didn’t exactly...exactly..put up a fight,” she whispered. “And it’s not as if anything really happened,” she rushed on, a clear picture in her mind of them crushed together on Coop’s bunk.

“Jen,” he spoke quiet and low. “You don’t need to be afraid of me.”

“Afraid of you?” It caught her by surprise that he would think he had frightened her, “I’ve never been afraid of you.”

“No, you never were, until that night,” McQueen wasn’t going to let her hide behind politeness.

“I wasn’t .......” Jen stopped, realizing that it would be better for him to think she had been afraid, than to know the truth. “I was just caught by surprise, that’s all.”

McQueen watched her fiddle with her bracelet. Something wasn’t right. She was showing sighs of fear, but she didn’t appear to be afraid of him. If she had been afraid that night, she wasn’t now, though something was definitely wrong.

Searching for anything to change the conversation, Jen grabbed the first thought that came to mind. “So, do you think these peace negotiations are for real?”

McQueen could tell she didn’t want to talk about that night anymore, but she was talking to him again, and that was a start. “I’m not sure what to think. I’ve learned that Chigs aren’t to be trusted.”

“What if it’s really the ending?” Jen shook her head, having trouble imagining it all being over. “What will you do?’

“I’m a Marine,” McQueen couldn’t admit, even to her, the doubts he had felt when he had to leave all those people to die on Demios. His head had known it was the correct decision, but his heart was another matter. “I’ll do as I always do. What about you?”

“I can’t go back to life as it was,” Jenny reached in her pocket and pulled out the most recent letter from Patsy. Her fingers playing with the edges of the envelope. “I had planned to go home to Catalina, but now, I don’t know?”

“What do you mean?”

“Patsy is about to make some decisions that could change her life. She’s really in love with Frank Savage, I don’t want her to have to factor me into the equation when she’s deciding what to do. And they do say that ‘three’s a crowd,’” Jen shrugged, as if that explained it all, but she knew it didn’t. “She’s always put her life second to mine, but not this time. I won’t let her do that.”

Jenny couldn’t very well tell McQueen how much she was going to need someone to hold onto in the months to come. How much she needed someone to be there for her, after all the death she had seen. How much she needed the one person in her life that she knew loved her, when she was going to be saying good-by to the one man she had discovered she would love. No, she couldn’t tell Ty any of that.

“You could stay here, there’s always need for a good doctor, even in peace time.” McQueen wanted to picture Jen always here, safe on the Saratoga.

“No. No I can’t. The Navy isn’t for me,” Jen shook her head. “More importantly, I don’t think I’ll ever pick up a scalpel again, when this is over.”

“Jen, don’t make any sudden decisions,” McQueen knew that war changed people, but this wasn’t something he had expected to ever hear.

“There’s nothing sudden about this,” she shook her head. “I’ve known for a long time that when this was over, I was through as a surgeon. Too many people died on my operating table during the siege of Ixion, because I lacked the skill to take care of them. I’m a darn good general surgeon, but I was doing surgeries that called for speciality training in vascular, cardio-thorasic and God forbid, even neuro! We all were.”

“That happens in war time, when you’re on the front lines.” It was hard for him to imagine Jen as anything except what she was. “But how many did you save, that would have died if you hadn’t been here?”

“No, it won’t work,” Jen met his eyes. “It takes a certain something.....Many call it ego, to be able to take a knife and cut into another human being, to decided to save this part, but sacrifice that part. I don’t have that anymore. I make myself do it everyday, and I will until this is all over, but then I’m through. Besides, I took an oath that starts out ‘first do no harm,’ not ‘first do no harm, except in time of war’.”

“If you’ve felt this way all these months, all during Ixion, why didn’t you tell me before this?” McQueen was troubled, things were changing too fast. “We ate dinner together almost every night. Why didn’t you say something?”

“Those dinners,” Jen smiled. She thought of them as an oasis of calm in the storm that had raged all around them. They had been all that kept her together during those months. She and McQueen had been like two raw and bleeding people leaning against each other for the few minutes it took them to exchange news about the battle and take a deep breath before returning to fight their own sections of the war. “Those dinners were about the 58th, I couldn’t add to what you were carrying around by telling you what was going on with me. Anymore than you were able to tell me what you were really feeling about the Wildcards.”

“You don’t lean on anyone, do you, Jen?” McQueen accused.

“That’s the pot calling the kettle black,” she smiled as she danced around the question. “Besides, going to medical school was my last attempt to please my father. It was never my ‘genuine path’.”

“’Then a little bit of crookedness in the mind, will later turn into a major warp.’” McQueen quoted from The Book Of Five Rings. “Is that what you’re thinking,” the quote came easily to mind, because he had been studying it lately himself.

“This isn’t the time for Japanese philosophy....” Jen was remembering the last time they had quoted Miyamoto Musashi and what it had led to.

“Maybe you’re right,” he murmured as he searched to find a topic that wouldn’t keep bringing his mind back to kissing her. “What will you do, if you don’t go back to Catalina, it’s your home?”

“Home? No, McQueen, home is where the heart is,” she was on dangerous ground. Sitting at that table, she knew for a certainty that her home was where ever this cool strange man was, so she would have to settle for never having a home. A place where they had been together often, would have to do. “I’m going to write Lars asking him to get the Windswept out of dry dock. There are so many places I’ve wanted to see. Now’s my chance.” She closed her eyes and could picture herself on her boat. *“Yes that would do. She knew she would find a piece of him on the Windswept.”*

“Where would you go, if you could go anywhere like that,” McQueen needed to be able to carry a picture of her in his mind, doing all the things she wanted to do.

“I’ve always wanted to fall asleep under the Southern Cross,”Jen smiled. “Go through the Panama Canal and down the east coast of South America. Then test my seamanship, like the sailors of old by fighting my way around Cape Horn. Can you imagine that, Ty, being right there at the bottom of the world, where there is nothing but water circling the globe, as you go from the Atlantic to the Pacific?” In her mind, they were no longer on the Saratoga, but following a tossing sea to all the places they wanted to go. “Then I’ll keep heading west and explore all the islands of the South Pacific. I’ll keep on going until it’s no longer the Pacific. Seeing the Greek Islands, the Aegean Sea, and the Mediterranean. Search the coast of Africa, for the perfect beach where every wave that hits the shore is a perfect wave.”

“Damn, Jen,” McQueen didn’t like what she had planned at all. “Now I know why Patsy worries about you on that boat. You’d be safer in the middle of the war, than to take on a trip like that by yourself.”

“Please, Ty,” Jenny picked up her cold coffee cup then put it back down. “This isn’t something that’s open to debate. Why can’t we just talk anymore without ending up either arguing or.....” Jumping up quickly, as she realized what she was going to say, she grabbed her tray. “I really need to get back to Sickbay. Have a good day.”

McQueen sat for a moment watching her back as she moved swiftly out of the mess hall. *“Ending up arguing or.... what? What were you going to say? And why couldn’t you say it?”* He had never seen Jen pull in her words before. This was the woman who had faced down Spencer Chartwell on the issue of in-vitro civil rights, and written a book that would have made Harriet Beecher Stowe proud, but sitting here with an old friend she couldn’t say what was on her mind. Later when he had time, he was going to have to think about it all.

ISSCV en route to the Nebraska from the Saratoga 1700 hours

Major Craig Rabwin looked at his watch, if everything went as planned, the peace talks should end at 1800 hours, only 30 mikes after they had started. He had spent the early afternoon with E. Allan Wayne, who due to the time inversion potential of space travel had arrived on the Saratoga from Earth, just hours after he had been sent for. The two week difference in time allowed Wayne to make the long trip and not delay the peace talks with travel time.

Wayne’s speedy arrival had made it difficult for Rabwin to do as he had been ordered, but he had been successful in his mission. No one would suspect the innocent looking computer that had been left in the corner of the room to be housing a time bomb. Once the dust settled from the destruction of the Saratoga, no one would be able to prove anything. Each side would blame the other for duplicity in the peace negotiations.

Saratoga Sickbay, 1758 hours

Everyone sat transfixed by the argument that was breaking out in the peace talks. All Jenny could do was stare at the loud speaker as shouting voices jumbled and the sound of breaking glass could be heard. Moments later the rumble of an explosion was broadcast throughout the ship, then everything was silent. Whatever had exploded, had destroyed the intercom system.

“No, Ty?” Jenny gasp as she grabbed the emergency bag and ran for the door.

“Jenny, stay here,” Chico Voss had heard the pain in her voice. “Joan and I’ll do triage.”

“Win,” Jenny called out for Corpsman Winston Trosper. “Get the OR’s ready, if we’re lucky, we’ll need them.”

Twenty minutes later, Sickbay was full of people and bodies.

“Jen,” McQueen choked out. His lungs were on fire from breathing the ammonia that had filled the room when the Chig Envoy and broken through the glass. “Jen!”

“I’m right here, Ty,” she held onto his hand as Trosper cut away what was left of his uniform.

“I trust you,” he coughed. “Do what needs to be done, you have it...the Only you,” knowing he was safe with her there he finally let himself give in to the pain and horror of what had happened and passed out.

“Oh God,” she shuddered as she got her first look at the shattered bone and muscle that was all that was left of his right leg below the knee. “Okay people, listen up,” she had fallen into his speech patterns without realizing it. “Get some lines in this man and prep him for surgery. Win, pull the ortho basic and amputation pans. Type and cross match at least five units of packed cells. If we don’t get the damn bleeding stopped......”

“Jenny,” Joan Brill grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. “Stop it Jenny. You don’t have to do this.”

“Yes I do,” she smiled at the older woman, thankful for the interruption. She had been going off half-cocked and it wouldn’t have helped Ty if she tried to do surgery in that condition. “I promised him I would.”

“Jen,” Voss cut in.

“Do--not--call--me--that!” She glared at Chico, pronouncing each word as if it were her last. Tears filled her eyes, but she refused to let them fall.

“Jenny,” he chose his words carefully, finally understanding the bond between the Doctor and the Colonel was much more than it appeared. “You shouldn’t do this, you’re too close to the situation.”

“He’s a MAN, not a situation!” Jenny met Chico’s eyes, knowing he was right, but needing to do it anyway. “Please, my medical skills are all he’s ever wanted from me. Let me give him that. I can do what needs to be done.”

“Okay,” Chico saw the truth in what he was being told. “I’ll assist you, though. Between lung damage from the ammonia gas and the condition of his leg, it’ll take two of us.”

“I’d like that, but what about the others?” Jenny looked around Sickbay for the first time since McQueen had been brought in, but didn’t see any other patients.

“He’s the only survivor,” Chico watched as body bags were being taken out of Sickbay. “Come on, let’s get scrubbed.” Voss wasn't sure that McQueen would survive surgery. He owed it to the Colonel to be there for Jenny. If things went bad, he would have her taken forceable from the OR, if necessary.

They had used an epidural for anesthesia due to the condition of McQueen’s lungs. Then decided to leave it in place for pain control. Surgery had been touch and go getting the bleeding stopped, without damaging the nerve and vessel endings to the lower leg. Jenny had hopes that a transplant or possibly cybernetic prosthesis could be used. She and Chico had been as sparing as possible to the tissue. Only time would tell. They left the stump bandaged with a pressure dressing. A flap would be done when the type of prosthesis was decided on.

Sickbay 2330 hours

Sickbay was full of people again. This time it was the prisoners of war that had been traded when the peace talks started. At least something good had come out of that mess. They looked tired, dirty and beaten. Jenny knew just how they felt.

She quietly entered the bay where McQueen was sleeping. There was one more thing she had to do, and she needed to get it done quickly. They were readying the ISSCVs for departure. The war was back on, so civilians and casualties needed to be evacuated as soon as possible.

“Jen,” McQueen muttered as he saw movement in the darkened room.

“I’m right here,” she pulled up a chair and held his hand. “How did you know it was me.”

“Smelled roses,” he tried to smile, but even his face hurt. “The letter,” he coughed. “Do you still have the letter?”

“What?” She leaned closer to him. “Don’t try to talk.”

“The Kazbek letter,” McQueen tried to raise his hand to wipe away her tears, but he didn’t have the strength. “Give it to Ross.”

“There’s no need,” she pulled his hand to her face and felt him gently cup her cheek. “You’ll be back, I promise.”

“No Jen,” he tried to smile but couldn’t. At that moment he was holding all he wanted in his hand and for the first time in his life, he didn’t have the strength to go after it. “You’ve never promised anything you couldn’t deliver, don’t start now. Give Ross the letter.”


“Ma’am,” the curtains to the bay fluttered as a young Corpsman stuck his head in. “We need to load him up now.”

“Give me a minute,” she called over her shoulder. “Alone, Sargent!”

Working quickly, she unfastened her bracelet from the large safety pin attached to the pocket of her scrubs. “Ty, are you still awake?”

“Barely,” things were fading in and out of focus, only Jen was clear in his vision.

“I want you to take this,” she worked quickly, pulling out his dog tags and fastening the bracelet to the chain that held them. Then she tucked them under the hospital gown he was wearing. “Listen to me, Ty. You have my bracelet. It’s always brought me luck. It’ll do the same for you.”

“But Jen...”

“No, Ty,” she wouldn’t listen to what he had to say. “I want you to bring that back to me. It’s my luck, I’m loaning it to you. You bring it back to me.”

“Sorry Ma’am,” the young Sargent entered the room. “I’ve got my orders. It’s going to get rough out there, we need to get out of here. The Colonel is the last to be loaded.”

Half an hour later Joan Brill went into McQueen’s empty bay. Jenny hadn’t followed his stretcher out and the older nurse was beginning to worry. What she found was far worse than the tears she had expected.

“Oh my God, Jenny,” Joan rushed to the young woman who was sitting on the floor, her back tight against the wall, legs drawn up to balance an emesis basin she was gripping. Her body racked with dry heaves. “Chico, get in here, NOW!”

“No, please,” Jenny begged between choking. “Get me a wet cloth, I’ll be all right.”

“Jenny, you’re not all right,” Chico Voss knelt between the two woman, with a hypospray in his hand. “I’m going to give you something to calm your stomach,” as his hand came up, Jen surged to her feet.

“NO!” She yelled, feeling hemmed in. “Please, all I need is a little time. Don’t you dare drug me!” She had her hands raised in a defensive stance. It had been over a year since Gloria had taught her how to protect herself, but if either of them tried to get any closer, they would find themselves on the deck. “Both of you, back away and Chico, put the hypospray on the floor.”

“Jenny, there’s more,” Joan spoke softly. “Come over here and sit down, we need to tell you what’s happened.”

“Ty?” She looked at Chico, understanding why she was feeling so much pain, McQueen must have died on the ISSCV. “He wasn’t stable enough to travel, was he? His lungs... he didn’t make it.”

“It’s not McQueen,” Joan’s throat hurt from crying, she didn’t think Jenny could take much more, but it was better for her to hear it from them, than someone else. “It’s the Wildcards.”

“No,” Jenny moved stiffly through the curtains. Looking around, at the now empty Sickbay. “All of them?”

“Vansen and Damphousse had to eject. Search and rescue has been started over planet 2063Y,” Joan’s voice faltered. She cleared her throat and went on, “the camera from the ISSCV that brought the POW’s in,.... well,..... it recorded the explosion of the cargo carrier where Paul Wang was providing cover for them, to get away. Ross says there is no way Paul survived. I’m sorry Jenny.”

“Vansen and Damphousse, missing? Paul...dead..?” Jen stumbled over the last word. “West and Hawkes?”

“In their quarters,” Chico had checked them out himself. “Physically, they’re fine.”

“Thank you both, for your help and concern,” Jenny stood very straight and made herself smile. “I’m fine now. I want to apologize for my behavior a few minutes ago. I believe my shift has ended, will you excuse me, please?” She turned and walked out of Sickbay. Her calm appearance in total contrast to the woman who would have fought them off. Her eyes the only clue that anything was wrong.

Wildcard’s Quarters

West was laying on Paul’s bunk and Hawkes on Vansen’s. Neither had moved since Cooper came in, both were still in shock.

“Please, may I come in?” Jenny opened the door to the quarters she swore she would never enter again. Her eyes strayed to Hawkes’ bunk on the far wall, but she pulled them quickly back.

“Jenny....,” Cooper called out to her, but what ever he was going to say, lodged in his throat when he saw the stricken look on her face.

“Please, don’t make me go away?” She begged as she walked between the two bunks, and fell to her knees. Her arms open, reaching a hand for each man. The tears she had been holding in for hours falling fast and hard. “Please, don’t make me be alone?”

Both Marines slid to the floor and all three of them held on tightly. The men relieved because they had something to do. Jenny, finally giving vent to all the pent up emotion of the day.

“It’s okay, Jen,” both men felt her stiffen when West inadvertently used McQueen’s pet name for her. “It’s okay, Jenny,” he corrected himself. “You stay right here.”

“Right here,” Hawkes echoed, as he and West held onto her and she held them together.

The Jack, the King, and the Lady sat there holding on tightly to each other. Somehow, the three of them would make it through the night.

McQueen’s ISSCV September 2, 2064 0025 hours

McQueen was cold, but it was a good cold. A cold that let him drift away. Away from the pain in his lungs as he tried harder and harder to breath. Away from the numbness in his lower body from the epidural, that he knew was blocking pain. Away from the darkness in his soul when he thought of all that he had lost in the last 24 hours. He felt his breathing become slower and slower as the effort became too great. He was tired of fighting for air, it was so much easier to!

It was strange, he knew his eyes were closed, but he could see Corpsmen moving quickly, as they pushed the POW’s to the back of the ISSCV and curtained off his bunk. The incessant beeping that had been keeping pace with his heart rate was erratic. The voices of the people around him were growing dimmer.

He felt good, wonderful, in fact. What was he doing on this hospital shuttle and who was the pale, silver haired man who the Corpsmen were working on so frantically? McQueen watched as the Sargent at the patient’s head threw down a laryngoscope in frustration and barked out some orders. *“Poor bastard,”* McQueen though. *“They’re not going to be able to save him.”*

“Colonel,” Wang was standing beside him, watching the Corpsmen as they quickly opened a tray that contained a number 11 blade, retractors, and a tracheotomy tube. “That’s you, they’re working on. You.”

“No,” McQueen argued. Then he looked again. “Me? I’m dying? Does that mean you’re dead?”

“Yes,” Paul watched the Colonel digest the information. “I died a few hours ago, but we saved the colonists.”

“What about the others?” McQueen looked around him afraid he would see Vansen and Damphousse. “Did they die, too?”

“They aren’t with me, yet,” Paul answered cryptically. “You are the one whose dying.”

“Considering everything,” McQueen shrugged. “Maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe it’s a.....”

“Bull shit, Colonel!” Wang was angry. He had never seen McQueen give up before. He hated to see it now. “You’re always telling us ‘it’s a good day to die.’ What exactly does that mean?”

“I’m not sure,” McQueen faltered. He knew that he could have answered that question at one time, but standing there watching as they performed an emergency tracheotomy on him, and forced oxygen into his lungs with a ambu bag, the answer was slipping away from him.

“Well if you can’t answer that,” Wang pushed his advantage. “Tell me why isn’t this a good day to live?”

“Oh, come on Wang,” McQueen pointed to the stretcher. One of the Corpsmen was bagging him as the other attempted to stop the flow of blood, that had begun to seep from his stump. While they worked, the older Corpsmen was giving worried looks to a strange rhythm pattern that would appear sporadically on the cardiac monitor. “Look at that, and you tell me if it’s a good day to live.”

“Colonel,” Wang tried the easy argument first. “You gave me the courage to go on living when I needed it. You also gave me the courage to die when it was my time. But, in those instances, it was a choice I made. First: to go on living after Kazbek and then Minerva. Second: to die yesterday. All three times it took courage, but those times they were my choices. The choice to live after making mistakes. And the choice to die fighting to keep the POW’s from being killed. I knew I was helping to bring Kylen back to Nathan; to complete a job that the 58th started over a year ago. My choices, Sir, not someone else’s. That made them the right choices. You gave me the ability to do that, now you stand there and let two Corpsmen make the choice for you?”

“It’s not that easy, Paul,” McQueen couldn’t take his eyes away from the body the Corpsmen were working on. It was hard to believe it was him.

“You say the right choice is rarely the easy one,” Paul shot back. “Besides, Jenny said you’d be back.” Bringing out the heavy artillery, he continued, “why don’t you believe her? More importantly, what will happen to her if you die here?”

“Jen’ll be fine.” McQueen clenched his fists, not wanting to think about it. “She has Ross, I’ve seen to that. She has others to take care of her, as well.”

“Does she? Look for yourself,” Wang pointed out the porthole. Instead of seeing the stars, the two spirit-men saw Jenny huddled against the wall in the bay that had been McQueen’s. She couldn’t stop throwing up as she gripped an emisis basin. Then she surged to her feet to driving off Joan Brill and Chico Voss, as they tried to help her.

“What’s wrong with her?” McQueen stepped closer to the window. “Why is she like that?”

“She can feel you dying, Sir.” Paul wondered why the Colonel couldn’t see what was in front of his eyes. “She kept her promise to you and was the one to do your surgery, look what it’s doing to her.”

“Why the hell aren’t they helping her?” McQueen gasped as he watched Jen keep Joan and Chico at bay.

“You said it yourself, just yesterday,” Paul looked at him knowingly. “She doesn’t lean on anyone. Though, that’s not exactly true is it, Colonel? There is someone she has been known to lean on. Tell me who it is.”

The images of Jen faded and the stars returned on the other side of the porthole. McQueen closed his eyes, trying to deny what he had seen, and what he knew. “Me? I’m the one she’s.........” The older man shook his head. “But why me?”

“That’s something you’re going to have to figure out yourself. You’re running out of time, Colonel,” Paul warned, then began to quote McQueen from that memorable talk, before the Battle Of The Belt. “’Courage. Honor. Dedication. Sacrifice. Those are the words they get you here. But now..the only word that means a damn is life. The one certainty in war... is that in an hour, maybe two, you’ll either still be alive...or you’ll be dead. And one more thing...It’s okay to be scared.’”

McQueen looked Paul in the eyes, but found only deadly earnest looking back. “What, no dog act this time, Wang?” He questioned, a cynical half smile on his lips.

“No Sir,” Wang shook his head, both men remembering an overheard conversation from months ago. “So what’s it to be Colonel, live or die?”

“Live or die,” McQueen muttered as he looked out the porthole again, but saw only stars. Something shifted in him, as he knew he had to go back. He stood straighter and met Paul’s eyes with defiance as he stepped toward the Corpsmen who were working on him. “I choose to live! I choose to go on fighting! The hell with being scared!”

“Sir?” Paul called to him. “Tell Vanessa that ‘the face of heaven is so fine, that all the world is in love with night.’”

“What?” McQueen faltered, it sounded like Shakespeare, but he couldn’t place it. “That means they’re alive?”

“Tell her, she’ll understand, so will Shane,” Paul’s voice was a whisper through the air vents as McQueen slipped back into himself.

“We’ve got him back! Look at that monitor.” The younger of the two Corpsmen shouted to his buddy. “I thought we’d lost him for sure.”

The senior Corpsman reached for the radio to talk to the pilot. “Sir, we’re going to have to divert. The Colonel almost died. Are there any hospital ships closer than the Flo?”

While they waited for a response, the older Corpsman pulled aside the ambu bag and watched the steady rise and fall of the Colonel’s chest, “it looks as if he’s breathing on his own. Lets hope he keeps it up!”

“Sargent Hopkins,” the pilot’s voice could be heard by both Corpsmen. “I’ve just contacted the Clara Barton, she’s on her way to meet us. Then we’ll take the POW’s on to the Nightingale, as planned, for transfer to Earth.”

“Sir, what kind of timeframe are we talking here?”

“Can you guys keep him alive for 90 mikes?” The pilot asked. “There’s nothing closer, and the situation is heating up back where the Saratoga is, so we can’t turn back, not with a bunch of civilian on board.”

“Yes Sir, 90 mikes to hand off,” Hopkins glanced at his friend. “We only need to keep him alive for 91 mikes, then he belongs to the Clara.”

“We never should have accepted him, without a doctor,” the younger Corpman shook his head. “Who would have guessed? He appeared stable when we picked him up along with the colonists.”

“That’s the way it is in a time of war,” the older man advised the younger. “Always remember: you only have to keep them alive until one mike past hand-off. That’s how you’ll stay sane on these runs.”

The Saratoga 0100 Commodore Ross’ Quarters, Sept. 2, 2064

The knocking on his door finally woke up the Commodore. He had fallen asleep in his chair, too exhausted to move to his bedroom.

“This had better be important,” he growled as he opened his hatch.

“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you at this hour, but this can’t wait.” The frightened face of Captain Maureen Fisher looked up at Ross.

“What happened, Captain?” *”This is trouble,”* Ross thought. He had know the forensics expert for a number of years and had never seen her afraid.

“Commodore, I wanted to get a look at the explosion site before.....well, while it was still fresh,” she was picking her words carefully.

“Maureen, say what you mean, it won’t go any further,” Ross smiled trying to put her at ease.

“I wanted to look at it before the Spooks got back on board. What I found, is hard to believe,” she shook her head. “Someone planted a time bomb, in there.”

“What!” Ross was caught by surprise. Like everyone else, he had thought the Chig Envoy had managed to smuggle an explosive aboard.

“That’s not the worst of it, Sir.” Wearing work gloves, Fisher pulled a melted and bent computer casing out of a bag she had been carrying. “This is where the bomb was hidden. The worst is this: about a pound of unexploded composite; behind what appears to be a burned electronic trigger.” She pointed to areas of the open casing.

“I’m not following you, Captain.” Ross trusted Fisher, she was good at her job, but what she was saying didn’t make sense. “The bomb went off. Why didn’t that explode?”

“That’s what I asked myself when I found it. See the bits of burned wiring here?” She moved her gloved fingers over small wires. “I think those were the electronic trigger to the smaller bomb, that should have triggered the main explosive chamber.” Fisher pointed to the large block of unexploded composite. “In my opinion, Sir, the bomb that went off a few hours ago, was a trigger incendiary, not the main bomb.”

“If the trigger went off, why didn’t the rest of the bomb go?” Ross was puzzled.

“I’ve spent the last hour going over tapes from the five minutes before the explosion.” She turned on a recording device and guided Ross through her theory. “Listen to this. There is the argument between Wayne and the Chig; that’s the glass breaking, when the Chig moved into the main room. When he does that, he changed the air content. Ammonia mixed with air already present. I think that’s what saved our lives.”

“But I thought ammonia was used in some explosives?”

“It was, up until about 25 years ago. But what we’re dealing with is ammonia gas,” Fisher had moved into lecture mode. “If the gas content of that room had been a mixture of between 16-25% ammonia/air, we’d all be nothing but molecules bouncing off the stars. My theory is that the area around the bomb, which was located close to the room where the Chig Envoy had been staying, had a much higher ammonia content than the outer edges of the main room. If you examine the site carefully, you’ll notice that the area where I found this computer, has almost no burn or charring, but as you move outward from that area, the damage increases. Gasses, by nature mix, but it would have taken some time for the ammonia to mix evenly with the air.”

“Can you give me a short version, in English, Captain Fisher?” Ross’ head was swimming with gas laws and laws of partial pressures, that he was trying to remember from college chemistry.

“Bottom line, Sir?” Fisher turned to Ross. “Someone tried to blow up the Saratoga. There is enough composite in this pack, to take out two carriers our size. The only reason we’re alive to talk about it is because that Chig Envoy changed the air content of the room, which prevented complete combustion of the trigger bomb.”

“You’re telling me that the bomb that killed all those men,” Ross was shocked. “That bomb, was just a small bomb compared to what was coming?”

“Yes, Sir,” Fisher took a deep breath. She was relieved that Ross was still listening to her. “Combustion needs oxygen in order to take place. I believe that at the time the trigger went off, there was very little oxygen around this computer casing. That’s what kept the bomb from going critical.”

“Have you told anyone else about this theory of yours?” Ross had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“No, Sir,” Fisher shrugged. “There is no one else I trust with this information.”

“Thank you,” Ross wondered if she realized she had just put herself on a hit list, if her theory was correct. “Is there any danger from that pound of composite?”

“No, that’s one of the nice things about composite. It requires a high energy of activation to be triggered,” she grinned. “Sorry sir, it takes another explosion to set it off, one of a greater magnitude than the one we experienced a few hours ago.”

“Did anyone see you poking around the explosion site?”

“I was discrete, Sir. I didn’t see or hear anyone else, but on a ship this size, who knows.” She was a bit worried, but tried not to show it.

“I’ll keep this locked away here,” Ross moved to his wall safe. “The spooks are delayed. Communications are down with the Nebraska, since they went to answer a distress call from the Oklahoma in sector 12. Is there any way we can simulate this?” He pointed to the ruined computer casing. “So we can do an independent investigation.”

“I think that can be arranged,” Fisher smiled at Ross. “You have a devious mind, Sir.”

“That’s why I’m the Commodore,” he smiled back. “You should have a day or so. Will that give you enough time?”

“Yes, I think it will.”

“Good,” Ross frowned as his communications console rang. “Watch your six Captain, and if things look the least bit strange, come to me.”

“Yes, Sir,” Cpt. Fisher felt relieved that she had passed the burden of her find on to Ross. She didn’t envy the man his job.

“Commodore Ross, here,” he answered his message.

“Sir, I’ve got a call coming in from the Clara Barton. They say it’s urgent.”

“Put it through, Sargent,” Ross sighed. He was beginning to wonder if the day would ever end. His head still throbbed and his cold was as bad as it had been in the morning.

The Wildcards’ Quarters 0230 hours, September 2, 2064

Jenny was awakened by her wrist unit beeping. She had been asleep in her old bunk in the Wildcards’ quarters. Her last memories were of sitting on the deck with Nathan and Cooper as she cried. The three of them holding on to each other. She must have fallen asleep and the Marines had put her to bed.

She knew she had been dreaming about Ty. If she didn’t know better, she would swear she could smell him. Was this going to be a repeat of Kordis? She didn’t think she could take that, again. Maybe he’d slept in this bunk after she had left the night before landing on Demios. *“Yes,”* she decided. *“That was the answer.”* At least the only answer her sanity would accept.

In the light of the corridor, she saw that it wasn’t Sickbay that was calling her, but Commodore Ross. Running her fingers through her hair, she decided to stop by her quarters and pick up the letter Ty had wanted her to give to Ross. It was only slightly out of her way. The letter was important to McQueen so it was important to her. She hoped that Ross wasn’t going to be upset by what ever he had written.

“Commodore?” Jenny knocked on his hatch.

“Come on in Jenny,” Ross looked as if he had aged ten years in the last hours.

“Glen, what can I do for you?” Jenny had told herself all the way over here that it was a professional call, that there couldn’t be anymore bad news.

“You’ve got a call from Dr. Stan Turek on the Clara Barton.” Ross indicated for her to take his desk chair and showed her how to operate the radio. “It’s about McQueen.”

“Stan,” Jenny spoke into the radio. “What’s going on there?”

“I’ve got this wounded panther you were sending to Earth.” Turek’s voice could be heard over the radio. “They ran into trouble on the transport, and we were the closest hospital ship, so we caught him.”

“What kind of trouble, Stan?” Jenny’s voice shook.

“To hear the Corpsmen tell it, he was almost dead, when all of the sudden he was back and fighting for his life.” There was admiration in Turek’s voice. “They had to trach him, but it’s only temporary, until the chemical burns on his mucous membranes heal. Breathing those ammonia fumes caught up with him. It’s mostly throat damage, so that we don’t have to worry about him going into full blown ARDS.”

“Oh God,” Jenny gasp. “I shouldn’t have let him go so soon after surgery.” She had balanced her worry for his respiratory track, with her concern about getting him to more sophisticated orthopedic care, while there were still options regarding a prosthesis.

“If anyone is going to make it, it’s this guy. He woke up fighting,” Stan continued. “Mike Kelly has just been transferred out here. He’s going to look at the Colonel’s leg in the morning. From your notes in McQueen’s chart I see you were hoping for a transplant or cybernetic prosthesis. Luck is with on that one, because Mike knows more about both of those than anyone else I can think of.”

“Will you let me know what he has to say?” Jenny felt the tears begin again.

“Be glad to,” Stan cleared his throat before going on. “One other thing Jenny. He was hardly strong enough to hold a pen, but the Colonel has a message for you and Commodore Ross. He was insistent that I get it to you tonight. The guy’s a hand full. Short of drugging him to the point of unconsciousness, it was easier to give him something to write with and promise I’d call you.”

“A hypospray of 5 mg. of Sleepez, will take him under in about thirty seconds.” Jen’s voice cracked as she remembered doing just that.

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind,” Turek chuckled. “It sounds as if he has a history of being a bad patient.”

“Ross is standing by, Stan,” Jenny opened the radio so the Commodore could hear what was being said.

“McQueen says to tell you both that, ‘they’re alive.’ He said ‘have faith and keep searching, they’re alive.’” Turek didn’t know what the message was about, but the Colonel had refused to take ‘no’ for an answer. “And Jenny I’m to tell you, ‘he’ll bring it back.’”

“Dr. Turek,” Ross had taken over the radio, when Jenny put her head on his desk, unable to take anymore. “Thanks for letting us know what happened. Dr. Kirkwood will call you in the morning.”

“Sure thing, Commodore,” Turek could hear the sound of soft weeping in the background and it unnerved him. He had known Jenny for ten years and had never seen her cry. “Tell Jenny we’ll take care of things on this end. Turek, out.”

“Jenny,” Ross stooped beside her chair and pulled her head onto his shoulder, while awkwardly patting her hair. “Come here, you cry all you want, it’s been a hell of a day.”

“I’m all right,” she pulled away from him and sat, looking down into his face. “Really I am. You’re right, it’s been a tough day. Was Ty talking about Shane and Vanessa?”

“You can’t put any faith in that.” Ross wanted to believe it, but couldn’t make himself. “McQueen must have been rambling.”

“You’re wrong, Glen,” she argued. “Ty wouldn’t say it if he didn’t believe it. The night before we picked them up on Demios, he was worried sick about their fate, because he was uncertain. It’s not in his nature to believe like that, unless he knows something we don’t.”

“Jenny, you’re a doctor.” Ross hated to have to convince her that she was wrong, but he knew that for her own good, he had to make her understand that there was very little chance the women had survived. “You know the shape McQueen was in when he left here. Tell me how he could have learned something that we haven’t?”

“Glen, I don’t know.” She sighed, as she leaned back in his chair, feeling equal parts defeat and conviction. “But he used the word ‘faith’, he said, ‘have faith, they’re alive.’ He wouldn’t use those words unless he knew something.”

“I think that he believes it.” Ross stood and poured himself a drink, Jen shook her head, ‘no,’ when he offered one to her. “That doesn’t mean it’s so. You need to prepare yourself for that, we all do.”

“Anything from the SAR teams?” Jenny whispered.

“Nothing as yet, 2063 Yankee rocks on it’s axis, at a rate of twice during it’s 15 hour rotation. That causes shifting magnetic fields that play hell with our communications.” Ross wasn’t happy with the situation. “We could drop a Com satellite, but that would be like leaving a sign for the Chigs that we’ve got a craft down.”

“This keeps getting worse and worse,” Jenny sighed as she rubbed her eyes.

“Yes, it does.” Ross hated to add to what had happened tonight, but he knew in fairness he had to tell her what Maureen Fisher had found. “There’s something else I need to talk to you about.”

“What more could have happened?” Jenny looked at Ross and backed away from him.

“Sit down, this is going to take few minutes.” He led her to the couch and sat across from her. As he explained what Cpt. Fisher had found, he watched her grow pale and silent.

“Time bomb, you say?” Jenny took a deep breath and got up to look out the observation window in Ross’ office. “Was the intended target the peace talks, or was it something more personal?”

“I have no way of knowing at this time,” Ross knew she was referring to herself. “Savage has been notified of all that’s taken place in the last 24 hours.”

“Glen, months ago, you told me the people around me were safe,” she was too tired to keep her temper under control. “Was that a lie to keep me from asking questions, or did you really believe that they wouldn’t try anything like this?”

“We thought the odds were so small, that it wasn’t anything to worry you about,” Ross admitted. “Keep in mind that we have no proof that the bomb had anything to do with you.”

“Who is ‘we’?” The Doctor glared at Ross, white-faced and furious. Her fists clenched at her side.

“McQueen and I,” Ross moved toward the woman and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Well he certainly paid the full price for that didn’t he?” Jenny snapped out at Ross. “He believed in me and look what it cost him! People he cares about are dead or dying. He may die himself. And if he does live, his life will never be the same again. My God, Glen, it cost him his leg! He’s a Marine! The Corps is his life. You two had no right to make that decision for me, because now I have to live with the consequences.”

“Take it easy, Jenny,” Ross gripped her shoulders and gave her a light shake.

“I will not take it easy!” She shouted at the Commodore. “I made a promise and I broke it.” She was pointing toward the stars to her right as she exploded at Ross. “I should have known the Universe would exact it’s full price. Gloria warned me, but I was so glad to have them back from Demios, that I didn’t remember all that she said to me.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Ross pulled her close to stop her raving.

“Between my broken promise and what you and Ty were keeping from me, disaster was a sure thing,” she bit her lower lip to keep from crying again. “Please Glen, tell me this day has been a nightmare and I’ll wake up soon?”

“I wish I could,” Ross held her close and wanted with all his heart to keep her like that, but he knew she wasn’t his and never could be. “I wish I could.”

“I’m all right, Glen.” Jenny stepped away from him and turned her back, not wanting him to see the pain and guilt she was feeling. “Really I am, I just need to get some sleep.”

“What I told you about the bomb,” Ross placed a hand on her shoulder from behind. “That isn’t to leave this room.”

“Yes, Sir,” Jen took a deep breath as she turned back to him. “I nearly forgot, this is for you,” she pulled the letter from McQueen out of her pocket and handed it to Ross. “The last thing he asked me to do before he was shipped out, was to give you this.”

Ross took the rumpled envelope from her shaking fingers. His name was written in McQueen’s familiar handwriting. “Where did you get this?”

“He gave it to me months ago,” Jen smiled as she remembered a night when she had slept held tightly against Ty. “The night before they left for Kazbek. I was to give it to you if he didn’t come back.”

“What’s in it?” Ross held the envelope with unsteady fingers.

“I’ve never read it,” Jen smiled for the first time that night. “It’s addressed to you.” She reached for his hand and curled it around the letter. “You’re a good friend to him. He spoke fondly of you as far back as when he was in detox, four years ago.”

“Ty, did?”

“Yes,” Jen searched for the right words. “He had spoken of his friend Glen, but the thing that sticks out in my mind the most is when I began calling him Ty.” She smiled, remembering a late afternoon on a sailboat. “He said that the only other person who called him that was Glen. Later he said that when people called him TC, it made him feel incomplete.”

“He said that?” Ross had never realized how important a thing like a name could be. “I never knew.”

“Umhmm,” she shook her head in the affirmative. “I think it meant a great deal to him. You helped give him an identity as a man.”

“Thank you for telling me that,” Ross felt at peace for the first time that night. He knew the feeling wouldn’t last long, but he needed it for every second it was there. “Now you get to bed, it’s almost morning and I doubt today will be any easier than the last 24 hours has been.”

After the doctor left, Ross sat at his desk staring at the envelope. Part of him wanted to tear open the paper and read the words his friend had sent to him. Another part of him believed that as long as the letter stayed unopened, McQueen would stay alive. It was a silly superstition for a Commodore of a space carrier to have, but it kept him from opening it.

Carefully placing the letter on his desk, with the picture of his sister and children, he thought, *”you guys take care of him for me?” It didn’t make any sense, but it was how he felt. McQueen was family, so the Commodore was putting all he had of the man with the one part of his children he could touch at a moment’s notice.

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