Disclaimer: Don't own anything.

Comments are always welcome at Whitethorn 1996

R-rated


RETRIBUTION

by

Whitethorn


Part One: Downward Spiral

There was a loud whoosh as the last HAMMERHEAD docked. The maintenance crews rushed in and quickly went to work on the ships.

Cooper Hawkes tucked his flight helmet under his arm and took one more despairing look around. Agony played across his features. A gentle hand gripped his shoulder. He looked around and saw Vansen smiling gently at him.

"Don't worry Coop, we'll find him." She told him. "Now come on, and get some food with the rest of us. We've got to keep our strength up." She encouraged. Hawkes nodded sadly, and followed the rest of the squadron.


"That's a negative." ROSS told the 58th as they attempted to re-board their HAMMERHEADS.

"Sir, with all due respect...." West began, only to be interrupted by Ross.

"No but's. I let you have the first three shifts. No more. Now go and get some rest. Understood?"

"Sir, we won't be able to rest until he's found." Damphousse, normally the quiet one, offered.

"What I know is that you have been flying reconnaissance for three six hour shifts. Use you heads. You're tired, and your judgements are impaired. Do you think he's want you going out in that shape?" Ross asked pointedly.

Vansen was the last to leave. "You'll call us if you hear anything?"

Ross nodded and shooed her out of the docking bay.


The shrill "call to arms" whistle work them.

"58th squadron report to docking bay 27. Repeat, 58th squadron report to docking bay 27." A voiced instructed.

Ross looked at the anxious faces greeting him. Not one of them had asked the question trembling on their lips. McQueen had trained them well.

"Delta squadron found McQueen's ship. They're bringing it back in. ETA is about ten minutes. McQueen was found sedated by a unknown chemical agent."

Ross looked at the relief spreading on the faces before him. He didn't tell them that he was worried. Or that he had a pretty good idea who had kidnapped McQueen.

McQueen disembarked stiffly from the shuttle. He eyed the 58th waiting for him briefly.

"Sir, are you alright?" Hawkes asked anxiously.

"I'm fine."

"I want you to report to medlab one." Ross ordered.

"I said I was FINE." McQueen growled.

Ross eyed him steadily for a long moment. His eyes narrowed. "Debriefing room in twenty minutes."

McQueen nodded and stalked off towards his quarters.

Wang swallowed convulsively. He recognized the look on McQueen's face. Recognized it because he had worn it on his face for so long. Sometimes he would look in the mirror and see it still.

Damphousse lowered her eyes from McQueen and paled. She wrapped her arms around herself and tried to remember to breathe normally. There was a tormented look in her eyes.

"Phoose?" West was asking, noticing how pale she had become. The others, hearing West's question, looked at her.

"What is it Phoose?" Shane asked, seeing the brightness of tears in her friend's eyes.

"I saw it again. That light. It was all around McQueen." Damphousse told them in a husky rasp.

"That strange light you saw when we were in those tunnels on that planet? When you knew that someone was going to die?" West asked. Damphousse gave him a mute nod.

"But he came back. He looked ok, didn't he?" Hawkes was asking. No one was able to answer his question.


McQueen returned to his quarters. He had cleaned up, changed and gone to the briefing. But Ross had known something was wrong. At the end of the briefing, Ross's mind was more on the AI's then him. That was good, but not good enough.

McQueen felt cold. A bone numbing cold, that left him feeling alone and desolate. He stood in his room for a few minutes, at a loss what to do. He then went to his desk and searched until he found the bottle of scotch someone had given him on Christmas a few years back. The cap was stuck, and he had to struggle to open it.

He located a glass and poured out a large amount of the liquid. He downed it all in one gulp, and poured out another. Then he proceeded to get very, very drunk.

Why had Ross relieved him of duty? Working might have kept some of his inner demons at bay for a little while. Now they were screaming out for his blood. He didn't know if he could withstand them, and didn't even know if he wanted to.

Someone inside him was dying a slow, agonizing death. The physical pain he was feeling was nothing compared to the blow his psyche had received.

He looked blearily at the picture of Katherine on his desk. Suddenly, he was unable to look at how hopeful and happy he had been in that picture. He picked up the photograph and threw it against the wall. Glass cracked and shattered. Darkness rose up and poisoned him.

Clutching the bottle tightly, he staggered about the room, intent of destroying everything that had any value to him. The last thing he remembered was slumping against the wall, and feeling the chill of the metal against his back.


"Sit down, Vansen." Ross said, looking at her curiously.

"Thank you for agreeing to see me, Sir." Vansen politely inclined.

"Ross sighed ad rubbed his eyes. It had been a hell of a day. "At ease, Soldier."

Vansen relaxed only slightly. "Permission to speak candidly, Sir."

"Granted."

"It's Col. McQueen. We're worried about him."

"Col. McQueen is quite capable of taking care of himself." Ross told her.

"It's more then that, Sir. Do you remember the mission a few months back, when Lt. Damphousse developed those "anomalous intuitions? She confided that it happened again today."

"Go on." Ross urged.

"She saw the same phenomenon today when McQueen stepped off the shuttle. I felt it was my duty to inform you of this. She's not prone to hysterics, none of us is."

Ross folder his hands under his chin. "Thank you." He told her, the tone in his voice dismissing her.

"Sir!" Vansen protested.

Ross gave her a exasperated look. "Was there something else you wanted to add?"

"Just that we care a great deal about Col. McQueen, Sir."

"So do I, Lieutenant. I also know Col. McQueen a little better then you do. That is why you will take the following as a direct order. He needs to work things out on his own. If you or any other member of the 58th interfere with this decision, you will find yourself in the brig. Are you clear on this?"

"Yes, Sir." Vansen answered. She saluted, and left the room.

Ross watched her leave the room. He wasn't about to tell her that her concerns echoed his own. But Ty was a proud man, and any well intentioned offers of help would only do more harm then good. He respected him too much to even try. The best he could do was keep a personal suicide watch on him.

"Well?" Damphousse asked the minute Vansen got back. The others also seemed to hang on her answer.

"I did the best I could." She told them. With a troubled look she passed on Ross's warning.


"Tyrus." A voice called. McQueen ignored it. He didn't want to see anyone. He buried his face deeper into his pillow.

"TYRUS!" The called again. This time there was command in the voice, and old disciplines kicked in. McQueen squinted in the direction of the voice. McQueen hurt. His head felt like someone had emptied a few rounds into it. Even the dim light in his quarters felt like razors slicing into his eyes. The pain in this stomach rated a close second in its' complaints.

"Great!" McQueen thought to himself when he had seen the speaker. "I'm hallucinating"

"No, you're not." The speaker told him. "Now get up."

"I suppose this means I'm dead?" McQueen mumbled, sitting up with a great deal of effort.

"Close, but not quite. You might want to feel honored, however. Not everyone gets the chance to have a personal chat with their own spirit." The speaker informed him.

McQueen took a good look at **himself**. It was damned spooky looking at yourself, he decided. There were some differences. The major change being that his other self had a soft nimbus of white light around him. That and it was a older, wiser self looking back at him. The presence before him was dressed in standard military issue tank top, pants, and boots. All in a clean, rough off-white.

"I thought you only saw your spirit when you were dead." McQueen thought silently.

"Usually that is the case, but these are extenuating circumstances" McQueen's spirit told him, as he walked over and sat on the corner of his desk.

"Oh?"

"I have a special message for you."

"From who?" McQueen questioned.

"Him." His spirit said, motioning upward with this head.

"Yeah, right." McQueen snorted.

His spirit gave McQueen a enigmatic smile.

"You know I'm telling you the truth. Anyway, to cut to the chase. You're needed to help recover some very important data. You have the discipline, strength of character, and fortitude to see this through. And noble enough to follow through when things get rough."

"Give me a good reason why I should." McQueen demanded.

"All your life you've searched for who you are. Your reason for being. Well this is your chance to find some answers."

That got McQueen's attention. "Explain." He demanded.

"You'll benefit from this journey. I can't explain now, because you wouldn't understand. But you will then."

McQueen was quiet for several minutes. "I'm not the person you think I am. Maybe I was once, but not anymore." His voice was resonant with deep anguish.

"Do you think I don't know how you are feeling?" His spirit rebuked gently. "I received the brunt of the attack, after all."

McQueen looked at his spirit. He felt hollow, beaten, and defeated. It was a horribly empty feeling.

"At least listen." His spirit urged.

McQueen gave a tired, resigned nod.

"The Chigs and the AI"s have formed a alliance in this war. No one seems to know how or why this alliance was formed. If the AI's were to sunder their alliance, it might prove to be a breaking point in the overall war effort." McQueen's spirit told him.

"And how could I effect such a change?" McQueen asked incredulously.

"I can give you information that the AI's will want. You will use this information to get their assistance. Together you will pursue this lead to its' source. I'm afraid you will have to work together on this project if you want it to succeed."

"You're assuming I'm willing to have anything to do with those silicate bastards!" McQueen snarled.

His spirit sighed. "You did promise to hear me out."

McQueen gritted his teeth and let him finish.

"You can track Elroy-L down by using the replacement circuitry we installed. Very clever of you to suggest using brillium in that circuitry. It's a low wear, inexpensive metal that is easy enough to trace by its' radioactive patterns."

"And once I find him?" McQueen asked, distaste forming a bitter taste in his mouth.

"Tell him you can help him find MARCUS 12."

McQueen's forehead furrowed. "Who or what is MARCUS 12?"

McQueen's spirit smiled. "MARCUS 12 is to the AI's, what the Holy Grail is to humans."

"And what is to stop them from forcefully removing the information from me?" McQueen asked. He didn't want another similar experience with Elroy-L. The thought of it was physically revolting to him.

"You won't have the information until you need it." He told McQueen.

Again McQueen was silent for several minutes. "How do I know I'm not imagining this whole conversation?"

"A reasonable point. In about twenty minutes someone will come to see you. That person will be suffering the same pain you're experiencing. You can choose to help them or not. Oh....and what is in the bottom drawer of your desk might prove to be helpful."

McQueen rubbed his stubble laced jaw for a minute. "I must be losing it." He mumbled to himself. "To even consider this."

Again came the enigmatic smile from McQueen's spirit. "Or you're on your way to discovering yourself. And that is not always pleasant."

His spirit walked towards him. "If you won't do it for yourself, do it for those around you that care. Do it for the war, or just as a shining example for IV's everywhere."

His spirit stopped right before McQueen. "The choice is yours, of course. Now give me your hand."

Feeling battered and thoroughly bemused, McQueen did so. A overwhelming surge of what felt like electrical energy shot through him. He felt himself blacking out. A few minutes later, his vision cleared and he was alone in his quarters.

"I must be losing my mind!" McQueen ground out, as he stood with a grunt of exertion. He went through the motions of getting cleaned up.

He was about to check and see what was in the bottom drawer of his desk when a knock came at his door. He checked his watch and found it was exactly twenty minutes later.

"Who is it?" He growled.

"Lt. Wang, Sir."

McQueen shot a puzzled look at the door. "Come in." He invited.

Paul Wang entered the room. He looked nervously at the wreckage McQueen had never gotten around to cleaning up before hastily averting his eyes.

"Thank you for seeing me, Sir."

McQueen shut the desk drawer. Whatever was inside would have to wait until later.

"What was it you wanted, Wang?" He asked brusquely, motioning him to a chair near his desk.

Wang sat, and pressed his lips together nervously. He opened his mouth, then shut it again. Hesitantly, he began to talk.

"Was it the AI's that took you, Sir?"

McQueen was about to snap at him to mind his own damn business, when suddenly he changed his mind. "Yes." he told Wang.

"Did they.....do things to you?"

"AI's are known for their torture of the mind AND body." McQueen told him. He had a horrible idea he knew what was coming.

"I grew up in a really bad neighborhood. The gangs were uncontrollable. Sometimes thy would take a girl...." Wang choked to a stop. After taking a shaky breath, he continued.

"There was nothing we could do. I never knew what it felt like. How.....how violated you could feel. And the shame....." Wang's voice trailed off into silence. He hung his head dejectedly.

"Let it go Wang. Let it go before it destroys you." McQueen urged in a voice rough with emotion.

Wang's shoulders began to shake convulsively. McQueen felt uncomfortable watching the young Lieutenant cry. But he realized that with the tears, he would began to heal.

Breathing a silent request, McQueen opened the bottom drawer of his desk. Inside was a bottle of scotch. A bottle of twenty five year old scotch. McQueen recognized that bottle because he had drank the whole thing down a few days ago. He also knew it had been the only one in stock onboard the SARATOGA. Beside the bottle were two glasses.

McQueen took the bottle out, and twisted open the seal. He took a quick look at Wang. Wang had stopped crying and was sitting there quietly. Probably ashamed, McQueen guessed. He poured out a generous portion of the scotch into the two glasses and slapped one down in front of Wang.

"I don't usually drink with officers under my command, but I'm willing to make a exception in this case."

Wang looked up with a incredulous expression on his face.

"Drink it!" McQueen ordered.

Wang picked up the glass and took a hefty gulp. McQueen noticed he almost choked on the amber liquid, but managed not to at the last moment.

"What happens in a war can be ugly, Wang. But if you are a decent officer you deal with it."

Wang shot him a inquiring look.

"I'm still dealing with it." McQueen told him with a sad smile, answering his question.

Wang finished up the glass of scotch. "Thank you, Sir." He told McQueen. Getting up, he headed towards the door.

"Wang."

Wang looked back at McQueen.

"Nothing said in this room will go any further." McQueen offered with a meaningful look. Relief flooded Wang's face.

"Thank you again, Sir. For everything." He offered McQueen a tentative smile. McQueen nodded silently and let Wang go.

McQueen finished his own glass and replaced the bottle back in his desk. He had a lot of thinking to do.


"You look better." Ross told McQueen, as he sat down in Ross' office.

McQueen nodded. "I need to request some personal leave." He told Ross quietly.

"You've got it coming."

"And I need to file a requisition form for a CV personal transport."

Ross raised a eyebrow at McQueen's second request. "CV transports require at least a ten day waiting period."

McQueen's only reaction was to frown.

"I'm giving you two weeks leave. As well as the use of my CV transport."

"Thank you Glen." McQueen said quietly, the expression in his eyes speaking much more eloquently then mere words could.

"You're a damn fine officer, Ty, and I hope you find what you're looking for out there."


McQueen finished his pre-flight checks. Receiving his clearance, he lifted off and was soon absorbed by a sea of stars. He had left instructions in his quarters in case anything happened to him. That and personal notes to all the 58th and Ross. All the stops had been removed now. The future was in his hands.

Instinctively he knew that there was a long hidden conspiracy that would effect both human and AI. It would take every bit of moral fortitude he possessed to seek out Elroy-L again after what had happened between them. To work past the hate and anger, and get the silicate to cooperate with him on this mission.




Next : Part Two : Conspiracy
Back : To General Fiction