|Here's a short story I wrote as
a birthday present for friends back in June.|
It's PG for marginal violence.
Standard disclaimer: All characters, except Theo-Be, are the property of Glen Morgan & James Wong, Hard Eight Productions and FOX. They are used without permission or intent to defraud.
Slowly, McQueen raised the rifle to his shoulder. He peered down the sight, carefully aiming as the exact spot between his target's eyes. Inhuman eyes.
He paused a moment, centering himself. The old rage and fear gnawed at the edges of his concentration, pulling him away from the present into the recent reminders of a painful past.
The mission had been routine enough, another cargo run for the Wild Cards to guard. He had given his usual response to the usual bitching about being assigned yet another milk-run. They hadn't been expecting much, things had been quiet in the sector for several weeks now, the chigs' interest had shifted to other fronts for the time being. It had been a surprise, then, when the 58th had failed to contact anyone at the supply base. It has seemed like hours as he sat waiting for reports in the command center, but thirty minutes later Vansen had called in stating that they had killed four of the enemy and were bringing one disabled one back for questioning. He had stood waiting in loading bay five until the ISSCV returned.
As the object of his worst nightmares was dragged in out of the transport by Hawkes and Wang, McQueen had stood by in stunned silence. Then the shock had turned into quiet, all-consuming rage. It had been his misfortune that the Commodore had chosen that moment to enter the bay. Ross had taken one look at McQueen's face and had said that he was turning the prisoner over to intelligence.
He let the anger ebb from the tips of his fingers. He wanted this shot to be perfect. It had to be.
He had been about to argue with Ross, but it was evident from the Navy man's expression that he wasn't going to get anywhere. The methods he had used in interrogating the Elroy-El model which had killed Sewell had brought down a lot of flack from the higher-ups, despite the fact that they'd been delighted with the results. It was clear that Ross didn't want to risk a repeat of it with this other AI.
Carefully he squeezed the trigger.
After debriefing the Wild Cards, he had returned to his cabin. He paced as if trying to out-run the memories of being a POW that the sudden appearance of his old torturer had brought back in a flood. It was the same AI as back in the camp, he had recognized him from the one torn ear. And when he was told the prisoner's full name, Theo-Be 297 he was certain.
The tension of being so close yet unable to do anything was more than he could stand. He began to formulate a plan.
The weapon kicked back as the bullet went speeding towards the target. The projectile struck it right between the eyes. He fired again, and again. With each shot fired he felt some of the ancient anger and pain begin to dissipate. Every blow a repayment for one he had received. He continued to empty the clip until there was very little left that was recognizable. Caught up in the catharsis, he didn't notice that he was humming. The oddly cheerful tune filled the otherwise silent room as he reloaded.
First he had had to stop by the PX to acquire a necessary item. He had hoped to be unobserved, but, unfortunately, he had run into Vansen. She had looked oddly at his purchase but had nothing. Even through his driving determination he could feel a faint embarrassment over uncharacteristic actions. He recognized that it was utterly unlike himself.
He looked up to see shock and bewilderment in the Commodore's face. He stopped firing and lowered his weapon.
"Why? Why are you doing this, Ty? After all this time?"
McQueen paused, uncertain how to respond. Finally he said, "The prisoner the 58th brought back is the same AI who... interrogated... me." That it was a model designed as a child's playmate that had tortured him so viciously, seemed ironically appropriate for one who had never had a childhood. And the high-pitched voice and horrible songs had been as much the reason for his finally breaking as the pain. The inescapably cheerful tunes haunted his dreams still. He shuddered to think of them.
Ross looked down on the inanimate remains with a look of dawning comprehension. He remembered what his friend had looked like when the rescue party had finally reached the cells where he and the other POW's had been kept. Even more than the obvious physical suffering, the mindless, off-key humming of old children's songs had shown the true horror this man had endured.
The Commodore had come down to the firing range in response to a message from a very worried Captain Vansen. She had been sufficiently upset by her CO's agitation and atypical purchase that she had finally decided that she should notify Ross.
It was hard to tell through the damage, but Ross could see it did look like the prisoner: right shape, though smaller, eyes seemed different, but the aritficial hair was the right color.
McQueen stood there in the lengthening silence, looking uncomfortable. "Will that be all, sir?"
Ross sighed and shook his head as McQueen returned to his target practice. Well, who was he to tell a man what he could do with his teddy bear.
© Carol Stoneburner 1996