Disclaimer: The characters and situations of 'Space: Above and Beyond' depicted in this story are legal property of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Hard Eight Production and 20th Century Fox Television and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement intended.
This story and all non-canon characters are purely fictional and legal property of the author. This story is not open for distribution or sale in either fanzines, ftp-sites or elsewhere without the permission of the author.
This story was written for the Round2 Project - like a Round Robin the Round2 members write episodes to continue season two. Dear Soldier is episode 29 of the Round2 series and had to meet several plot points.
PG-13 rated, for war time violence
Comments are welcome at Usemcb@aol.com
Executive Producer: Mary
The teacher got up and turned off the video. "All right class, your assignment for tomorrow is to write a letter to a member of the United States Armed Forces. I realize many of you know someone in the armed forces, therefore it may be written to a family member if you wish. Yes, Kevin?"
"Miss Cross, what do you want us to write about? If I don't know anyone, I mean," said the boy trying to explain himself.
"Well Kevin, that's a good question. Why don't you start by telling a little about yourself; who you are, what you do everyday, what's important to you. And maybe something supportive, like your thinking about them and how glad you are that they're protecting us?" The teacher smiled at him and then, addressing the class, announced," We will start our letters now and finish them for homework tonight. You have until 3 o'clock."
A young girl obediently bent her head and looked down at the blank sheet of paper. Suddenly feeling very overwhelmed she hesitated. She had never written a real letter before, just the short little notes to her father every month. Taking a deep breath, she began to write…
My name is Claire. I am 10 and in Miss Cross's 5th grade class. How are you? I hope you're all right. I am fine. I live in a white house with a big garden in Pennsylvania. Where do you live?
"I will collect all your letters before class tomorrow, then we can mail them. Now, class dismissed." the teacher said raising her voice over the din of chairs being hastily exited.
"Coop, what's that," said West, spying Hawkes reading a folded piece of paper. Hawkes quickly tried to hide it in his bunk and looking very uncomfortable said, "Nothing. It's nothing. Mind your own business."
But Nathan's curiosity was peaked. "C'mon, whatcha reading?"
Cooper retrieved the letter from under his bed clothes and sheepishly handed it to West." It's just a letter."
"Who's it from?" asked West, slightly surprised.
"I don't know", admitted Cooper, who was starting to get uncomfortable with this whole conversation.
"You don't know," Nathan stated looking at Hawkes inquiringly.
"Well, I didn't steal it! The guy at mail call gave it to me," said Hawkes, getting defensive.
"Okay, Okay! I didn't say you stole it. I know it's your letter. I was just curious who it's from," said West, as he handed it back to Cooper. " How'd you get it?"
Hawkes sat back down on his bunk. "Well, when everyone went to Mail Call yesterday, I went too. I mean I know I'm a tank, and no one sends me stuff or anything like that. But I don't know; maybe Colonel McQueen might write. Besides, with everyone at Mail Call it's not like I can do anything else 'cause no one's around." Nathan just nodded understandingly.
"Anyway," Hawkes continued, "there's this bunch of letters see, and at the end the Mail guy was giving them out to people who didn't get anything. Well, I asked him if I could get one and he said sure, because they were for anyone on board. I know it's not like it's addressed to me or anything but it's the first real letter I ever got. Not counting that letter from the Brass."
Again Nathan nodded and said," Well, who's it from? What does it say?"
Hawkes opened the letter and, after giving West a quick look and receiving an encouraging nod, started reading aloud.
"Dear Soldier, My name is Claire. I am 10 and in Miss Cross's 5th grade class. How are you? I hope you're all right. I am fine."
As Claire waited by the front door for her brother, she thought about her letter and what she could say in it. She was starting to get an idea, when a hall door opened to reveal all the second graders quietly standing in single file. A split second later pandemonium broke loose as the children ran into the corridor. Claire just managed to grab her little brother's hand before he ran past her.
"Brian, come on! We've got to get home. Maybe Daddy's letter came today."
Running to keep up with his sister's bigger footsteps, Brian started to protest.
" I'm coming! Claire let go of my hand. I can walk home by myself! I'm not a baby anymore, you know. Claire!" But Claire ignored his protests and held his hand tighter as they crossed the street.
At that moment an old broken down school bus rounded the corner. It was painted black, except for the Aerotech logo on the side, and, like all Camp buses, the windows were covered in wire mesh. As it came to a stop at the intersection, a group of older kids started throwing rocks and yelling insults at the occupants.
Immediately the driver started cursing and yelling, while his passengers just sat staring out of the closed windows. Claire looked at them and could see the weariness etched on their faces as they tried to endure the stifling heat inside.
Suddenly, she caught the eye of a young woman. As the woman gave her a weary smile, Claire returned it with a small, tentative one. Then Claire detected movement out of the corner of her eye, and turned just in time to stop her brother from throwing a handful of gravel at the bus.
"Brian, stop it! You don't throw things at people! If Mom knew, she'd send you to your room without any Vid screen tonight."
"But the big kids were doing it!"
"It's wrong! It's a mean thing to do. They aren't hurting anybody. You wouldn't like it if someone did it to you, would you?"
Brian looked down and shook his head. "It's just some stupid Tanks. I wasn't going to hurt 'em, " he said softly, sulking.
Claire looked back at the bus, which was starting back on its way down the road, but she couldn't see the lady who had smiled at her. The bus disappeared in a cloud of dust and exhaust as she turned back to her brother.
Taking his hand she said," What if Jack was on the bus? Jack isn't stupid and he would have hurt feelings if you threw rocks at him."
"Do you think Jack was on the bus?" asked Brian suddenly contrite, "because Jack is nice and I wouldn't be mean to Jack. Do you think he would be mad at me if I threw stuff on accident?"
"Not if you promised not to do it again," said Claire in her best grownup voice.
"I promise," said Brian solemnly.
"I don't know Evelyn. I haven't heard from him in six months. No, the kids don't know. I keep sending our letters off every month, but God knows if he even gets them. I've been trying to find out what's going on, but I keep getting the run around. You know how Aerotech is; all communications are for military or priority use only. All non-essential "com" is blacked out."
She mimicked," I'm sorry, your request cannot be processed at this time. That information is no longer available."
"But I'm his wife damn it! If only I knew if he was just… okay," she finished softly, her voice cracking.
Suddenly spying Claire at the back door, she said, "I've got to go now Evelyn, the kids are home. I'll call you tomorrow. Bye." Her Mother hung up, quickly wiped her eyes, and walked over to open the back door. " Hi Honey, how was school today?"
"Fine Mom." Claire knew her Mom was worried but pretended not to see her tears. She wanted to be brave. She didn't want to ask about a letter from Dad anymore.
Just then Brian burst into the room loudly declaring his hunger and wanting something to eat. Claire sat down at the kitchen table, pulled out her soldier letter, and started writing again.
"I have a brother Brian. He's seven and a pain. Sometimes he's okay. When we fight I like to give him Knuggies and Indian Rope Burns. I have to walk him to school and watch out for him, because Mom works all morning at the plant...
"Hey West, what's a knuggie," said Coop looking puzzled and not quite sure he had read it right.
Nathan grinned despite himself. "Well it's kinda of like someone hitting your head with their knuckles. Kids do it."
Now Hawkes looked even more confused. "Here", said Nathan getting up and walking over. He gave Hawkes a quick knuggie then grinned and backed off.
"That's it?" Hawkes still looked confused.
"Well it sort of loses its appeal when you get older." West sat down on his bunk and his smile turned sad. "Yeah, I used to give them to Neil all the time." Nathan shook himself and gestured to Hawkes "Read the rest."
... She helps make medicine kits for spaceships and other important stuff. My Dad is a miner for Aerotech. He is on an asteroid and very brave. What did you do before you were a soldier? Do you have children? I bet they miss you. I miss my Dad.
Coop was silent a moment, then put the letter under his pillow and said, " I don't feel like reading anymore." He realized that whoever wrote the letter didn't think a Tank would get it.
He wasn't sure if he was sad or angry about it or even why it bothered him, it just did. Nathan, wrapped up in his own musings, didn't say anything.
Just then another thought occurred to Cooper and he asked Nathan, "Aerotech is making medicine?"
West grimaced, "Aerotech is making everything now, ships, tanks, medicine, food, farm equipment. According to my Dad, with all these Government subsidies, a lot of companies are buying each other out or merging into these big super corporations and Aerotech is the biggest. They probably own most of the world by now." He found the thought terribly depressing.
"Claire, could you and Brian go to the garden and pick some green beans for dinner tonight?"
"Sure Mom," said Claire. She put the letter in her school bag, and followed Brian into the backyard.
Brian put down the wicker basket beside the first bean plant and started picking off pods. Claire stood and surveyed the garden. It was not a huge garden, as gardens go, but it was large enough and took up half the backyard. It would have been slightly larger, maybe another row of lettuce or squash, if Jack had stayed longer.
Thinking of Jack, Claire looked over at Mrs. Hanson's place. She noticed the overgrown lawn and the falling gutters. Mrs. Hanson was old and Jack used to come by to do odd jobs and yard work for her. The children had come to know him well. In fact he had spent several days tilling the soil for their garden.
Unfortunately, Jack was also a Tank. No, "InVitro," Claire quickly corrected herself. And when Chaput was assassinated all the trouble started. Claire remembered seeing it on the news, the riots, the vigilante squads, and all the people getting hurt.
But she hadn't believed all the bad things people were saying about the InVitros. Jack was nice, funny, and always took the time to talk to Claire and Brian and answer their questions. Claire also knew Jack was really smart, cause he knew stuff about everything.
However, after a particularly bad incident outside one of Aerotech's plants, the corporation built several barracks and started housing its InVitro workers on site. This led to other places doing the same for their workers. Because everything was onsite, there was really no need for any of the workers to leave. While this didn't directly affect Jack, he said he missed seeing many of his friends.
Of course, as the war progressed, the human population of workers decreased and the InVitro population increased. Eventually the corporations started building larger InVitro Camps offsite. Claire knew there had been an occasional whispered incident in town, and Jack had sometimes shown up with bruises, but he never said anything.
Then, a few months ago, President Hayden designated several official government InVitro Safe Zone's and declared that all InVitros not presently in a recognized corporate affiliated barracks, had to report immediately to one of the Safe Zones for their own protection. Claire remembered when this came on the Vid screen. Her Mom got angry and called it "seg… sig… sagra", well some bad word. Claire was just mad because it pre-empted her favorite show. When Jack showed up a few days later, he told her Mom that he was going to join one of the new all InVitro Army Units, so he wouldn't have to report to one of the Safe Zones. By then, people had already started calling the zones Tank Farms. In the few days before he had to report to the base, Jack managed to dig the garden for them.
"Claire! I'm not going to do this all by myself. Mom said you had to help!" She glanced at Brian and saw he was more than halfway finished with his row. With a loud "Huff", she squatted and began filling her skirt with crisp green beans.
After dinner, Claire cleared the table and pulled out her letter. With the evening meal fresh in her thoughts, she continued writing.
We pick vegetables from our garden for dinner. Our neighbor Mrs. Hanson calls it a Victory Garden. I don't like tomatoes but everything else is okay. My favorite food is hamburgers, but it's too expensive so Mom doesn't buy it anymore. We used to get hot dogs, but now they cost too much too. Sometimes, Mom saves up and buys these tofu burgers with our ration cards. They taste HORRIBLE! I HATE THEM! Brian hates the cucumbers, but he likes Popsicle's. What do you like? Do you like tomatoes? What's your favorite food? Do you have one?
Hawkes looked up, as Nathan swung out of his bunk. "Hey, West!"
"Huh," Nathan looked at him bleary eyed and half-asleep.
Nathan stared at him for a few seconds, mumbled something about "visiting the head" and shuffled toward the bathroom. Coop was sitting up in his bunk waiting when Nathan returned several minutes later.
"What's Tofu?" persisted Hawkes, who thought it was a simple question to answer and couldn't understand why West was having a problem with it.
"Tofu," replied Nathan, still trying to wake up, "Tofu is mashed bean paste that they try to tell you is other stuff except mashed bean paste. It's the stuff they tell you is good for you. It tastes better than an M.R.E., but worse than the chow we're probably going to get for breakfast."
"Whoa, the chow is going to be pretty bad today ," Hawkes said quietly and shuddered. Nathan just looked at him.
"Mystery Meat," said Hawkes.
"I think I just lost my appetite." Nathan sat down.
"You know West, I just thought of something." Nathan just looked at him.
"Maybe it's not really meat," ventured Hawkes. "Maybe it's Tofu."
The next morning Claire woke up and got ready for school. As she sat in the kitchen waiting for her Mother to finish getting Brian ready, she again pulled out her letter.
Are you in the Army? My friend Jack is in the Army. He is an InVitro. He gets to live on a base, not on a Tank Farm.
As Claire wrote this she suddenly had an uncomfortable feeling. What if the person reading her letter was a "Tank"? InVitro, she reminded herself. Ever mindful that it was not nice to call anyone names, she quickly erased the word Tank and wrote InVitro. It had occurred to her that maybe the person, if he or she were an InVitro, might know Jack.
If you know Jack, or if you meet a big guy with black hair and his name is Jack, tell him to watch out for Chigs. Tell him the garden is beautiful and Brian and I are taking good care of it, but Mrs. Hanson needs him to fix her house.
Just then her mother walked in with Brian, "Claire, you're going to be late, both of you. Grab your lunch and scoot. Have a good day!"
Claire grabbed her brother's hand and immune to his protests hurried them both to school.
"InVitro Farm?" It was Nathan's turn to look confused.
"She probably means InVitro facility," said Hawkes with a grin. "Hey West, why would the Army have an all InVitro Unit. I mean I'm not complaining or nuthin', I bet they kick everyone's ass, but it seems kinda dumb. I mean I wasn't put in a unit with a bunch of Tanks, I got stuck with you guys."
"Tell me about it," said Nathan with a grin, " I guess the Marines figured you needed a babysitter and…" Nathan quickly ducked to avoid the pillow hurtling toward him. " I'm kidding, I'm kidding! Why ask me? You know the Army's never been known for its brains."
"Yeah, you got a point. Still, if the Brass try to make me leave the squad and put me in some InVitro unit. I'm not gonna go."
"Don't worry Coop. The Admiral wouldn't let that happen." But Nathan didn't sound convinced himself.
Claire dropped her brother off at his homeroom, with a promise to come and get him at lunchtime, and hurried to her classroom. She wanted a chance to finish her letter before Miss Cross came by to collect them. She quickly took her seat and pulled her letter out, but couldn't think of anything more to add. She read over what she had already written but it didn't seem enough.
"Alright class, please take out the letters that you did for homework last night. I'll be coming around to collect them."
Claire watched Miss Cross approach and hurriedly wrote down one last thought, then handed her letter over to the teacher.
"Sometimes I'm scared. Are you ever scared? Claire."
Cooper fell silent and neither man spoke for a moment.
Coop looked at Nathan. "Well, what am I supposed to do now? Forget it, write back, what?"
"I don't know. Do you want to write back?" asked Nathan.
"I feel like I'm supposed to, but it's not like I've ever written a letter before. What if I mess it up? Here, you do it!" Hawkes held out the letter.
But Nathan shook his head. "No Coop. It's your letter."
"Yeah, but no one wants a letter from a Tank. Besides, I don't know what to write."
"You know Coop, somehow I really don't think it matters what you write or that it's from an InVitro. It's only important to her that she knows someone read her letter and understands."
Hawkes looked down at the letter in his hands and let out a sigh. Feeling like he was covering a buddy's six, he slowly reached for a pencil and his notebook.
As Hawkes became lost in thought, contemplating his letter, Nathan got up and quietly left the room. He was suddenly aware of the need to write home.