*Space: Above & Beyond,* its characters and devices, are the property
of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Productions and Fox Entertainment.
While no permission has been granted to use these characters and devices,
this is is a work of fan fiction, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Rights to the actors themselves belong to their parents, to whom we are
most grateful. The rest belongs to me, Paula Morris, and my dangerously
whacked imagination (why anyone would claim such rights, I have *no* earthly
A completely PG13 story: no sex, no violence, just a lot of trite sentimentality and surface-level character development about the level of a Hallmark card. You may find some of the language questionable, but I didn't have a problem with it. Personal discretion is advised for mature themes on death. Other than that, let's just hope you are able to get through this with the straight face required, after having been exposed to Karen's little tale. (Surely everyone has forgotten by now?)
Waters Of The Heart
Paula *Spanky* Morris
"Light breaks where no sun shines
The old woman that got off the ISS CV was thin as the last leaf of a mountain aspen in winter, but still tall, still straight. She picked up her kit and slung it across her shoulders herself. She would have insisted on carrying it even if anyone had offered to help. But they were busy on the Saratoga, busy with other, more important passengers; busy with a war. No one noticed one insignificant old woman.
That was fine with her; she would have her homecoming all to herself. 'Toga had been her last and truest love, and Amanda E. Cochran, Admiral, US Navy, retired, was a jealous lover. She moved off down the corridor, knowing her quarters had been prepared and would be waiting for her, wanting to savor this small journey by herself. But she moved with purpose at the same time. She had a lot to accomplish here, and very little time in which to do so. Cochran felt her narrow body shaking as she walked, and hurried her pace, cutting short the homecoming tour. Be damned if she would fall prostrate and quivering to these decks, to be hustled off to med bay by some baby-faced midshipman. Yes, very little time, indeed.
She had stilled the quaking of her limbs with the pills and the vodka as soon as she had reached her quarters, then had made her presence known to Commodore Ross's aide only with a simple electronic message. It was the bare minimum courtesy to her 'Toga's current master that his passenger was safely aboard. She had grinned thoughtfully as she had done so, wondering how much curiosity the man could stand. A lot, apparently, because she had drowsed deep into ship's night before a voice message from the aide -- not the Commodore, his self-control was showing -- woke her, asking if there was anything she needed before shift change, when many ship's services would shut down for a time.
"Yes," she answered, sitting up on her bunk and testing the steadiness of her limbs. "Please send Colonel McQueen to my quarters, at his convenience."
There was a long pause, and she got the distinct impression Ross was standing right behind his aide, silently considering the implications of her request. Then her message was acknowledged, and Cochran set about straightening up herself and the guest room. Nothing like making a good first impression, she thought, nervous now that the moment for which she had planned was so near. She was already having severe doubts about its outcome. And so much depended on that outcome. For her, anyway. Perhaps for other In Vitroes, as well.
Despite her preparations, she fell asleep again before the Colonel came, knocking at her hatch at what would have been first light planetside. She pushed at her hair, splashed a little cold water on her face and cursed her rumpled civilian clothes. Then she answered her door herself. He looked as if he had been about to head back down the corridor and forget the whole thing. It surprised him when the her hatch opened and she stood there, beckoning him in.
"Come in, Colonel. Please, make yourself comfortable." She indicated the bed and single chair at the small desk with wry humor.
"Thank you, ma'am. But if you don't mind, I prefer to stand."
She shrugged. "As you wish." She eased herself into the desk chair and looked up at him. Sitting, it was easier to control the internal tremors in which her old body was indulging. She studied him a moment. He had taken the trouble to put on the uniform of the 127th for this visit, though she knew he would not pull another shift until the next ship's day. She should be honored, she supposed. Then she took him in, this Tyrus Cassius McQueen, the lithe height and spare features. He looked as if all chaff, all unnecessary lines or expressions, had been burned from him, and he had been honed in a high, hot fire. And tempered; quenched in ice and strongly tempered. She really didn't see much in him that she recognized, except possibly the eyes. She had seen pictures, but the man himself packed a presence she had only suspected. And his record...she knew so much of him, without knowing anything. If he weren't an In Vitro, he'd have made Colonel years ago. But then, they wouldn't be having this conversation at all, and that would not serve her purpose nearly as well. So get on with it, Cochran, she thought. You can sit and admire the youngster later. "Do you know who I am?" she asked.
"Yes ma'am, I do."
She sat staring at him, and eventually he got the idea she wanted proof. He cleared his throat softly and began a monotone recitation while staring at a point to the right and behind her left ear. "Amanda Elaine Cochran, Admiral, US Navy, retired. Born 1994, Metairie, Louisiana. Entered the Navy in 2014 and immediately began to make a name for yourself. Fastest-rising female officer in the fleet to this date. Took command of the newly-commissioned space carrier Saratoga in 2042 and saw her through one of the most decisive battles of the AI Rebellion, for which you earned the highest commendation the united Earth forces could bestow on a line officer. Retired in '54. As a civilian, you became politically active as a spokesperson for In Vitro rights. Despite this unpopular stance, you were elected to several offices. You have written three books, two on space naval tactics and one on your political career." Now he was looking at her, eyes locked, and she could tell he was tired of the game. "You have enough commendations to fill another book and enough medals to build another 'Toga...do I call you Admiral or Senator, ma'am?"
So, he did know who she was. But he didn't know anything of her life, anything of her, really, or he hadn't considered those facts important. "You could call me Amanda." That was the wrong thing to say. He visibly tightened up as if a wrench had been taken to him, twisting him several points beyond tolerance.
"Why am I here, Admiral?"
"Because..." she sighed. Now that the time was at hand, she realized she might not have the strength or courage to go through with it. "Because I need something from you. I have something to tell you." She rose, stood opposite him with a safe distance between them. She could really use a shot of Stollie's right now. "In that little biography of mine, you failed to mention that I was married. That I had a daughter. That she...died at the age of 17."
He was staring at that far point again, unsure what was coming but already sure he wouldn't like it. She had an irrational urge to turn about and see what was so damned interesting about that particular spot on the bulkhead. Instead, she hugged herself tight and tried to hold his eyes. "I allowed her organs and tissues to be harvested. I allowed her ovum to be donated to the In Vitro program."
Oh, now she had him. He was pale to begin with, but if he got any whiter, he was going to match his shirt. And his eyes -- she had thought when he came in they had been light gray or blue, but now they were as dark as the deep night that surrounded them. She grimaced to herself and continued. "I have done the research...I have had the files opened...
"Colonel." She straightened and brought her eyes level with his again. "Tyrus...Ty...I believe...I may be...I am your grandmother."
McQueen made no move. Nothing showed on his face, but his eyes flickered over her's. He was silent so long she began to wonder if he had heard her. Finally, his chin went up and he spoke slowly. "Admiral..."
"Yes, Colonel?" If he was going to seek refuge in military formality, she could allow him that shelter. She had long considered the hammer blow this news would strike him.
"...with all due respect ma'am," he drug in a deep breath, "you go to hell." And he spun on his heel and strode from the room. The hatch slammed behind him so hard she thought the ship rocked.
"Ah," she said out loud into the vacuum of silence the passage of his anger had left. "You certainly handled that well, Amanda." She crossed to the bunk and rummaged in her kit. Pulling out a bottle, she poured herself two fingers of Stollie's and took a long, deep swallow. She turned off the lights and lay back on the bunk, waiting for the shaking of her heart to stop. There was nothing for it, she supposed; she would have to go see Ross.
One hour and another tumbler of Stolnichaya later, Cochran knocked softly at the Commodore's hatch.
"Come," he said, and she entered a room that flooded her thoughts with memories. Ross was in civvies, up early and enjoying all his free time. He lay a guitar across his desk as he stood to attention. She had interrupted what she was sure was one of the few pleasures this man had aboard ship, and she felt a twinge of guilt. "Admiral," Ross said stiffly in greeting.
Doesn't like me, she thought. Doesn't know me, doesn't know why he doesn't like me, but nevertheless.... Smart man. She didn't release him from his stance immediately. She strolled about the room, lightly touching an object here and there. His eyes followed her, but he said nothing.
"At ease, Commodore. This is a social visit." He looked as if that certainly did not put him at ease, but relaxed his posture and continued to watch her warily. "This brings back memories," she told him truthfully, in her best friendly tone. "These were my quarters, once. She has changed little in 22 years."
"Begging the Admiral's pardon, but after six refits and practically being rebuilt that time in '56, I doubt the Admiral recognizes much."
She sighed and sat carefully on his bunk, wary of her balance with her old bones and muscles under the influence of the vodka. "You're right. I would have liked to think she had grown old with me. But 'Toga's practically a new ship now, and I'm just...old. You never forget your first command, Commodore. You never forget your last, either."
Now he looked plain uncomfortable, her last admission a bit too personal for his taste, coming from her, no more than a stranger. Well, things were about to get even more unpleasant. "You may want to sit down, Ross. I have something to tell you, and it will take awhile. Then, I need a favor." Confused and cautious, he reseated himself at his desk. She began to tell him exactly what she had told Ty McQueen. When she finished, his black eyes were trained on her like weapons and he was clenching his jaw so tight she was sure it must crack.
"And you told all of this to Colonel McQueen, Admiral?"
"Please," she said, "I've been retired for 20 years."
"All right then, ma'am. What is it you want me to do?" She noted the cold, distant, tone of his voice. He wasn't about to unbend for her, not where McQueen was concerned."
"Talk to him. That's all."
"Plead your case for you." Since they weren't standing on formalities, he picked up his guitar again and ran a mournful blues riff in B. Then he snapped his hard, dark stare back at her. "Why? What did he say when you spoke to him?"
"He directed me very politely to go to hell."
Ross gave a faintly amused snort and nodded, still picking at the guitar. "And that's exactly what he'll say to me."
"Yes, but in your case, he won't mean it."
"Tell me something: Why now? You must have suspected, known, for sometime. Why are you just now so hell-bent on making that particular mean and surly Tank part of the family?"
Well, he certainly wasn't stupid. She had been caught out, with her own hard-fought prejudice showing. "Because nothing like this has been done before, and it is time we acknowledged that In Vitroes are as much our children, our sisters and brothers, as those womb-born."
"That sounds like a political speech." His tone was cynical, and his expression matched.
"Because I have no other family." She said it matter-of-factly, with no concession to her own sorrow. "And because I'm dieing."
He stilled his fingers on the strings and stared at her before looking away in disgust. "Oh, great. Like he needs to hear that."
"I don't care what he needs. I am a cantankerous, selfish and powerful 77-year-old bitch with a span to her remaining days she can count on the fingers of her one good hand. All I need of him is for him to listen; all I need of you is for you to convince him to listen. Now, is that so much? Is that going to disturb your sense of loyalty so very much?"
He played softly, well into the song before he finally looked up again. "It does indeed disturb my "sense of loyalty" very much, ma'am. But not so much I can't see your point. Or the possibilities. This is going to cost you; there are things I want for him you still have time to achieve." He smiled complacently at her.
Horse trader. Well, these were deals she might enjoy making. She smiled back. "Name it."
"First off, a little sugar for me: you can get those AeroTech pus -- ah, geeks, outta my hair. Then, you're going to see that this is announced earthside, but without using him in any way...."
There were plenty of places to get lost aboard the Saratoga, and McQueen knew them all. But Ross knew McQueen, and he knew exactly where to find him. High atop the flying bridge were a series of alcoves off a narrow catwalk. These provided access and storage to communications and other sensor arrays that spiked the big ship's infrastructure. For some reason, even Ross had not figured out why, the designers had placed a series of man-high ports opposite the alcoves, lining the catwalk. You could sit in one of the little rooms and look out over the flight deck, out to the passing stars dopplering slowly before them. He knew the Colonel came up here to read, to write, to think. And he was right; the man was sitting cross-legged in jeans and loose shirt in the third alcove he checked, a book open across his lap. He had half-expected him to be getting drunk. Instead, he was reading. Or pretending to read. He was staring out the port, unseeing, but dropped his eyes to the page when he noticed Ross watching him.
"Pouting?" McQueen snapped him one of his patented mean stares, but Ross just grinned. He had developed immunity through exposure, and it effected him no more than the snarling of a bad dog behind junkyard chicken wire. He slid down to sit beside his friend. There was a small mini-cooler next to Ty he must have swiped from the bar, but from the half-empty bottle beside him, it contained only a few Coronas. "You gonna offer me one of those, or make me get it myself?"
McQueen flipped open the box-sized unit and passed him a chill bottle of beer.
"What, no lime?"
"Do I look like a bartender, sir?"
"No, you look like a sullen, pissed off SOB who's mad as hell to find out he had a momma like everybody else."
McQueen snorted softly and went back to his book.
"Give it up, Ty. You haven't turned a page in five minutes."
He slapped the book shut. "What do you know about it? She sent you, didn't she?"
"Me? I don't know anything about it, except what I learn from you. When you care to let me in on what makes this guy, Ty McQueen, keep on living day-to-day, that is." Nothing. He chugged at the beer, then sat staring at the patterns the frost made melting on the glass.
"I don't know her," Ty said quietly. "I don't want to know her. Not the way she wants, anyway."
"And how do you think that is? Think she wants to break out the family album, have a little hug and some coffee cake?"
Ty had the grace to look embarrassed at that. "No. But she wants...she must want some part of me I can't give. Because I don't have it to give."
"Maybe she knows better what she wants than you do. Maybe she's asking for a part of you that you would give any other soldier, any day."
"She hasn't got the right! I mean nothing, in any real sense, to her. She means nothing to me, just a name I read in a book. I owe her no part of myself!"
"She came here to die." That shut him up. Now he's going to tell me to go to hell, too, Ross thought.
But all color and expression had drained from the icy face. McQueen looked as if he'd been gut-punched and was fighting for a breath. "How...how many favors did she have to pull for this?"
"All of them. Well, almost all."
He sat very still. His eyes flicked rapidly from port to deck to book to his knotted hands, lighting anywhere but his friend's own eyes. "You know what this means...her coming here."
Ross had thought about it. He knew McQueen had never searched for his own "family," but he had always felt the man had wanted to. But he wouldn't let himself, as he'd allow himself so little else in common with other In Vitroes, other humans. Now that chance, too, was being taken from him. "Saratoga brought her here as much as you. This doesn't mean there aren't others. Considering the criminal shoddiness with which those records are kept, you may have been the only one she could dig up."
In the silence, Ross took another swallow of his beer. Ty's had long since gone flat, and was barely touched. "So are you going to do it? I can't order you to do something like this, but as your friend, I will tell you I think you should talk to her."
"For my own good." Disgusted and quiet.
"No. For her's, actually. She is an exemplary human being, Ty. You...we...can both respect that."
"I can't, Glen. I just...can't." The roving gray stare settled on a point far beyond the bow that held nothing but featureless black.
They sat in companionable silence for awhile longer, then Ross rose slowly to go. "You know," he said gently, staring down at the sleek, white head bent over the book, "you're usually so hell-bent on hurting yourself, sacrificing yourself, for us ordinary mortals, I can't see why you'd start practicing self-preservation at this late date." McQueen didn't look up. "Go to her. How much more can it hurt, when she'll be dead before the week's out?"
He left McQueen frozen in thought, still contemplating his book and stale beer. But he had seen the open page; he knew the poem printed there. It was about love, and redemption, and the remorseless tides of the human heart.
Ross said nothing to him, never mentioned Cochran to him, for the next three days. McQueen himself steered a wide course around the woman, and he was just beginning to feel as if she were no longer on board, as if he were free of that particular obligation. So he was startled when Ross came to his quarters, late on the third day, and told him she had been taken to med bay. His friend's face had been carefully emotionless; he had left without waiting to see if Ty would get dressed and go to her, or stay caged in his cabin, waiting for word of her death to truly free him.
And so he paced, felt around within himself for any other emotion than blind panic. She still meant nothing to him. She was still one of the greatest soldiers who had ever lived. Finally, nothing mattered to him but the fear, which he would have to face, regardless. Facing everything within himself he thought he wanted, yet knew he did not want, he went to her.
The woman in the sick bed barely resembled the one he had spoken with only days before, and that alone caused guilt to begin its scrabble of little claws at his heart. She looked hollow, her skin thinner than eggshell, a single layer of papier mache made of rice paper. She quivered as if a thin breeze shuddered her frail surface. Now and then, she would give a small cough that would pass over her like a wave over water.
McQueen stood watching her in the doorway. He stopped a passing doctor. "How is she?"
The medic appraised him carefully before answering. "Not good. Hours, I'd say, is all she has left."
"What...what's wrong with her?" He realized he didn't even know her illness, and that, too, set the guilt scrabbling at him more.
"A degenerative nerve disease. One of the new ones we know so little about, that have appeared only since we began to live in space. Her medication and treatment would have given her several more years, but she wasn't taking it as she should. On top of that, she was dulling the pain and muscle tremors with alcohol, which speeds things up."
"Why would she do that?"
The doctor shrugged. "The pills have been known to cause memory loss, slowed mental processes and other debilitating effects. My guess is she didn't want to live that way, and for some reason, was dancing a thin line between drunkeness and drug-induced stupor. Probably because she wanted to get out here to die. You do know she used to captain this ship?"
"Yes, I do know." He moved to the bed, and the doctor came after him, asking him to leave. But the old woman opened her eyes and focused on McQueen.
"You came," she said, and her voice was thin as the rest of her, but clear, emotionless. She looked at the doctor. "Leave us." It was an imperious, if quiet, command.
"I came," he said, when the doctor had left, "but I'm still not sure why."
"You don't like me coming here, disturbing the life you've made for yourself, do you?" He didn't answer, but his look said she sure had that right. It made her laugh a little, and that hurt. When she brought herself under control, he was still standing there. "Sit. Stay with me. Please. You might as well, now that you've come all this way in the middle of the night."
McQueen shrugged and pulled a chair over to the bed. "I'll stay, but understand, this is nothing I ever wanted. I still don't know why you would seek me out, an In Vitro, after all this time."
She twisted her head on the pillow so she could look at him easier, and he hunched closer to hear her. "You think this is easy for me? Think I got to mooning over a picture of my poor, lost In Vitro grandbaby and came all the way to the front for a visit?"
It was pretty much what Ross had said to him, and he managed to look embarrassed. "I couldn't imagine why you came."
"I came because I wanted to die aboard my 'Toga. I wanted to die in space, and be interred in space. I knew that from my battle time, alone on the bridge of my ship. Desperation breeds creativity, Colonel; I was ready to die then, but I wanted to save my ship. I knew how much I loved her then. That you were here, and who you were, was a bonus. An important one, but nevertheless.... Water?" He poured a glass from the plastic pitcher by the bedside and helped her drink it. "I don't mean to demean you, Colonel, who you are, what you've done, but the only reason I did look for you -- or one like you -- was because of the small part of my daughter and husband you might hold. If it's any consolation, you have satisfied that desire. You are very much like them; they didn't need me either."
She seemed driven to talk now that she'd started, the words coming even though it was obvious each one cost her. If this was it, if this listening was what she wanted, he could do that. "Go on."
"You knew I married another officer one year after I joined the Navy, that we had a daughter a year after that?"
"It was a mistake. For me anyway, though I didn't realize it until 10 years had passed. While I thought I had it all -- a career, a marriage, a family -- I had committed adultery. My first love was the Navy. I think my husband knew it, but we were apart so often, passion made up for a lot. I was happy enough, I didn't think too hard about it. And I never thought how poor a mother I was to my little girl.
"She spent most of her first 10 years in schools and with relatives. On her birthday that year, I made a special effort to be home for her. It was the only time I had been home for her birthday since she was four. I asked her what she wanted most in the whole world. She said she wanted my sister to be her mother, that I didn't love her, that her aunt was closer to her than I ever was. She thought she was just in my way. I let her go. I helped her pack and move that weekend.
"I shut myself out of all those little things mothers and daughters are supposed to share. I wasn't there when she went on her first date. She didn't tell me the first time she kissed a boy. I didn't help her pick her prom dress, or attend her high school graduation. And it hurt. I did love her. But I loved my work more. She never called me "Mother." It was always Amanda.
"Then she was dead. At 17, my beautiful girl was dead and I didn't even know her. And I lost everything but that career I loved so well."
"How did it happen?" he said into the long silence.
"Car wreck. Drunk driver. She was on life support; doctors told me there was a very slim chance she might recover, but it was unlikely. That if she did live, she would need constant care for the rest of her natural life. They urged me to stop the machines and let her go. I couldn't. For the next two weeks, I left her side only to eat and bath. I talked to her. I told her how wrong I'd been to let her go, how wrong she'd been to think I didn't love her. I promised her, if she would get better, we would be a family again. Then I got the death notice.
"What I didn't know was that my husband had also been killed, on a covert mission. If he had lived, it might have been different. I might have made a different decision. But he was dead two weeks before I found out, and I made my decision not three minutes after reading that yellow letter. I ordered life support shut down. At the time, I was sure it was the right decision. Even now, while I have regrets, I would not change what I did. I would not have become who I am, I would not have done those things that needed doing, had I made another choice then. I am...proud...of my life, my record."
"What --" he found he had to clear his throat to get the words out. There were things she said that he understood completely, and he didn't want even that sense of closeness with her. "What is it you want from me? Call you Grandma? You can't expect me to say I love you, simply because you claim some tenuous genetic relationship. Forgiveness? That would require me to hate you, or hold you responsible for some wrong you've done me, personally. Ma'am, I don't even know you well enough to like or dislike you. What gives you the right to come here and ask anything of me?"
"I want you to remember me."
He started to say something along the lines of that being a given, then stopped himself. Hawkes' words, so many months ago, came to him: "It don't bother you that, when you die, there's going to be no blood relation to say words over you?" And his response: "The men and women I serve with will know what to say." She had been the first master of this Saratoga. She had served bravely and well. Through faith and courage, she had brought honor to the name of this ship, to be passed on to each person who had commanded her, each person who had served aboard her. All this woman, this warrior, was asking, was what he asked for himself. She wanted the words, and the memory, and for her story to be told when she was gone. It would be all that was left of Admiral Amanda E. Cochran, US Navy, retired.
"I will remember you," Ty said slowly. "I'll remember you, always." She smiled a very small smile, that, had he known, looked very much like his own. She turned her thin hand up on the sheet and he took it. "Her name...the girl, your daughter...what was her name?" He couldn't look at her when he asked it. She turned her head slightly and he lowered his head to let her press her lips close to his ear, and she breathed out a whispery name. Then she closed her eyes and sighing, drifted off to sleep.
Kathleen. His mother's name, if he cared to think of her that way, had been Kathleen.
It was hours later when he woke at her bedside. He still held the old woman's hand. She was coughing softly, even those quiet sounds shaking her like rice paper in the wind. As he lifted his head, a doctor entered the room. Before the man could reach the bed, she gave three sharp gasps and lay still. He knew she was dead before the doctor lifted her narrow wrist and checked her vitals.
"She's gone, Colonel."
But McQueen had already disappeared. There were duties to be seen to, and he had made promises to the living he now must keep. He had no time for the dead.
When McQueen walked into Tun Tavern carrying Amanda Cochran's last full bottle of Stolnichiya, there was no one about but Ricks, the bartender, straightening up and looking bored. He took a seat at the bar and sat the bottle carefully in front of him, his cap beside it. He didn't even glance at the port where a flight of Hammerheads -- his own 58th, probably -- were returning from escorting the coffin they had just launched beyond the 20 klick line.
"What can I get for you, Colonel? Looks like you bought better than I can dole out with you," said the barkeep, nodding at the fifth of vodka. The Colonel was in full dress uniform, and that was unusual. He knew the officer never drank when he was on duty. Until now. He and everyone else aboard knew about the full-honors funeral service just conducted for the old ex-Admiral. Most, however, had no idea she had even been on the Saratoga until the announcement of the service. And as far as Ricks knew, no one had the slightest notion why the Colonel had said the few, simple words over her casket. Maybe this had something to do with all that; maybe he'd pick up some scuttlebutt, gain himself a little edge in the information game that always got played aboard military vessels.
"Give me a glass, Ricks," McQueen finally said.
He slid the Colonel a shot glass and watched as he unscrewed the cap, poured a shot, snapped it back. Ricks waited as he sat with his head down, rolling the now-empty glass between his fingers. He knew something was up with the man, but what? "Colonel..."
"Ricks." He stood and handed the bartender the bottle. "Keep this. Up there, where anyone who comes in can see it," he said, pointing at the top shelf. "Now this is an order; pass it on to everyone who pulls a shift here: This bottle stays on that shelf. When it's empty, you get another fifth of Stollie's, I don't care how. Take it out of my credit. Whenever a soldier comes in here with a story about a great warrior, a matchless and courageous human being, you give that man or woman a shot from that bottle. Tell that soldier the drink is with the courtesy, and respect, of Admiral Amanda Cochran, first master of this bucket. And you tell him, next drink, he drinks it to her memory." He fished in a pocket of his uniform, passed Ricks an object that caught the light, glittering, and jingled as he took it in his hand.
"Hang that on the bottle." He started for the door as the bartender examined the dog tags and the medal that dangled with them: the Naval Cross. At the door of the bar, McQueen hesitated, then turned back. "And Ricks..."
"When I'm dead, the next soldier that gets a drink from that bottle, you tell him this story, and how Cochran won that Naval Cross with the Saratoga. Then you tell him the burden of her memory is now his. It becomes his duty to keep that bottle here. So it passes. Always." He turned back for the corridor and was gone.
Ricks watched as he left, then shrugged. He took a couple of turns about the neck of the bottle with the chain and sat it carefully on the high shelf the Colonel had indicated. He could do what the man had told him, no problem.
Always; wasn't such a long time, considering just how long any of them might last out here on the line, Ricks thought.
Nor did it seem so long to Tyrus McQueen, considered in terms of the human heart.
Paula Morris © 1996