Authors Note: This story is rated R for language. Danny Wolfe and the Wolfe Pack first appeared in "An Echo of Yesterday." It would be best to read that story first. It is available at the web sites listed below, or contact the author via e-mail for a copy.
Special thanks to Mike Lee and Claudia Patarra for all their help.
The Darkest Night
Promises to Keep
An Echo of Yesterday
Even Kittens Have Claws
Degrees of Guilt
A Very Merry Christmas
My fanfic is archived on my web page at the Sunset Grill
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Disclaimers and Copyright Notice:
The characters and situations of the TV program "SPACE: Above and Beyond" are the creations of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.
All other characters not belonging to Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, are my creations and property. Permission is hereby granted to use them in fan fiction, providing that the author acknowledge my rights to them.
Quotation from "To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars", by Richard Lovelace, 17th century English poet, used without permission.
Degrees of Guilt
copyright Becky Ratliff, December 1996
USS Saratoga, October 2064
Glen Ross read the orders again. "....return to active duty effective immediately upon medical approval...." The whole thing came to less than a page. No explanation, nothing to indicate any wrongdoing on anyone's part. Just routine orders.
Well, he wasn't sure what else he had been expecting. He probably wouldn't have suspected anything himself when McQueen had been put on inactive status ... the man's leg had been blown off in a bomb blast, for Christ's sake. If Ross hadn't heard from some well-placed friends of his that Aerotech had taken advantage of the situation to try to get McQueen out of their way, he probably never would have suspected treachery. Fortunately for McQueen, his CO wasn't above a little treachery of his own in a good cause. Mark one problem solved.
At least he hoped so. What nobody had counted on was the relationship that had developed between Ty and Shane Vansen. Ross knew no matter what they felt for each other, that relationship would not have gone anywhere ... except that while McQueen was on inactive status, there hadn't been a chain of command. He'd encouraged them himself ... any idiot could see they were good for each other ... but now what?
Ross took the time for one deep sigh before he summoned McQueen to his office. He hoped he was the bearer of at least more good news than bad.
McQueen arrived five mikes later, knocked at the hatch. Ross called, "Enter." Even after all these years, everything they'd been through together, McQueen still "reported as ordered". Ross met his eyes, neither of them had to say a word as he passed the printout across the desk.
McQueen read it. "Thank you, sir. I'll see Mary about this as soon as I can." He gave Ross a long, speculative look. "Just how did this miracle come to pass, anyway?"
Ross couldn't help a self-satisfied little grin. "Well, you know the first part of it already. I had to call in some markers to get you assigned to my personal staff rather than some academy in Lower Nowhere. But not as many as you might think, you do have some highly placed friends who would prefer to remain anonymous ... and given the political uncertainties of the day, I cannot say I blame them.
Getting you reassigned to active duty took a little longer ... but all I really had to do was to call in a favor from a certain Master Chief Petty Officer at NAS Groombridge ... who knew another M-CPO at the Pentagon. What with the manpower shortage, getting a clean medical evaluation into the right hands was all it took for orders to come down from on high." Ross turned serious. "How do you think Shane will take it?"
"We've talked about it," McQueen said. "There won't be a problem, we'll make sure of that."
"There hasn't been a problem. That wasn't what I meant." Glen's concerned tone shifted the conversation from business to personal.
"She's as much a lifer as I am, we know what we have to do to avoid risking our careers. Look, Glen, we're not the only ones who've had to put our lives on hold until after the war. And besides that ... whats happened between the two of us is the best thing that's ever happened to either of us, we want to do it right." A rare, unguarded smile lit his eyes.
Ross nodded, he had expected nothing different of either of them but he was relieved that they'd come to their decision for reasons they could live with.
McQueen paced the room, paused to look at a picture of Ross' two littlest nieces. It was a new one, they were riding tricycles in Glen's parents' back yard. "Glen, where does this put me? An advisory post is great for a non-active officer, but that won't cut it any more. Where do we go from here? Do I get another squadron? Do I go back to the 58th?"
Ross said, "Ty, if I'm reading this right, the only thing that's changed is your military status. I personally think you can get away with sorting it out however you want to. They're trying to sweep this under the rug, so they aren't going to argue with you over details." Ross looked up. "Shane did not want command of the 5-8 when she took it, circumstances backed her into a corner. But she's done a damn fine job."
"If another squadron is what you want, God knows that I will do my best to make it happen, Ty. That would clear the road for you and Shane -- you deserve that, both of you." Ross wanted to stop right there, but he forced himself to go on. "But since you've been tactical advisor, our losses have dropped. A lot of kids have made it back who wouldn't have if you had not been on the bridge ... and in battle, I can concentrate on the Saratoga when I know I have you there to handle tactical operations with the squadrons. That made a great deal of difference both times we engaged that hive ship. Im not there yet with Roberta Carey. Not that Im saying anything about Captain Carey, its just that she came over from the Ike after Demios, then Pete gets sick, and now shes Air Boss before I really know anything about her--"
"I know what youre saying, Glen, and I know it isnt anything personal about Captain Carey. But I doubt that I'll be accepted in a position of this much responsibility on anything other than an advisory basis," McQueen said. He looked across the desk at his friend, after all these years they could read each other fairly well. McQueen could see the wheels turning and suddenly he figured out exactly what it was that Ross had in mind. It was a lot more than the tactical-ops work he was doing now. "If youre thinking Im going to be allowed to officially command the Marine Cavalry Detachment, youre dreaming, Glen!"
"You said something similar about the Angels, as I remember," Ross pointed out. "They'll accept you as Honcho. They'll damn well accept it, because we need every advantage we can get to win this thing."
After he'd lost his leg in the explosion, McQueen had put his command ambitions on the back burner, concentrating just on staying in the Corps in the first place, and then staying a few moves ahead of Aerotech. But what Ross was proposing would put him back on track and then some. Commander of the Marine Cavalry Detachment aboard the Saratoga -- CMCD, or Honcho -- was the next logical step up from CO of a squadron. It would mean a promotion to full bird colonel sooner, rather than later or maybe never. On the other hand, it also increased the likelihood that he and Shane would continue to be in a chain-of-command situation after the war ended -- or assigned to different carriers.
Anyway, considering that a few months ago she had been under a threat of court-martial, and he had been looking at a medical discharge, he wasnt complaining. Shane was always telling him to cross bridges when he came to them. That one was too far down the road to worry about yet.
Glen said, "Ty, I've got a big concern about this ... you know a situation could come up. You'll be in charge of all the Marine squadron assignments ... including the ones involving Shane. It could be a mission from which she has little chance of returning."
McQueen looked up from the orders, which he had been glancing over again. "I'm aware of that, sir."
"I know you are, and I haven't got the slightest doubt that -- God forbid -- if that situation came up both of you would do your duty without any reservations. But I do not want to put you through that!"
"Neither did Shane. She volunteered to transfer out of the 5-8 right after we pulled her and Damphousse off 2063-Yankee. But what would it change, sir? If a mission like that came up, and she was the best person for the job, she'd have to go whether the orders come from me or you or anyone else. And if she didn't come back ... I'd still be right out there with her, no matter what. Nobody gets a guarantee in this life."
Ross nodded. He couldn't fault that logic ... and nobody knew about guarantees better than Ty, that was for certain. But Ty hadn't sent his kids on a suicide mission ... he'd gone with them. Ross had sent his best friend to die. He stopped right there and said a silent little prayer that his friend would never in a million years be put in that position with Shane Vansen. "Ty, don't give me an answer now. Think about it ... talk to Shane ...."
McQueen nodded. Ross watched him leave, and felt a sudden desire to throw something across the room. He felt as if he had betrayed his oldest and dearest friend.
Vansen was in the office alone when McQueen got down there. "My orders came through," he announced without preamble.
Shane asked, "And?"
"I'm back on active as soon as Mary okays it."
The same mixed emotions he was feeling flickered across her expression. She leaned back in her chair, and finally said, "It took them damn long enough."
She listened as McQueen outlined Ross idea. "If it works out, it means you stay C.O. of the Wild Cards," he told her.
Shane nodded. "I can handle that. Wow. This is too big an opportunity for you to pass up."
"Itll stay a 'big opportunity' after the war," he pointed out.
Shane frowned, but said, "I know. Do you really want a nice, quiet desk job back home after the war?"
"Hell, no. Not yet, anyway." He hadnt even had to think about that one.
"Then I dont know what else were going to do about it. CMCD, Ty!"
"Im still not sure itll happen. There are a lot of people who never wanted to see a tank as a squadron commander. Theyll be a lot less happy about this."
Shane acknowledged the truth in that, but replied, "There are enough other people who care enough about the Corps to want to see the best people succeed, whoever they might be."
"Shane, you have a right to know, there's another choice. The Commodore offered me command of another squadron. If I were to do that, it's probably where I'd be until I retired ... but I'm not sure that isn't exactly what I want. No desk job, no politics. And there would be nothing to stand in our way if I were to accept that offer."
Shane looked at him, for a moment it was all she wanted. But she asked, "What do you want to do, Ty?"
"What do I want, Shane, or where does my duty lie?"
She laid her hand over his for a moment. "I'll support whatever decision you make, love."
The love and loyalty in her eyes were almost more than he could bear. "I dont know where its going to leave us."
"Exactly where we thought it would, at least until after the war. Cross that--"
"--Bridge when you come to it! I knew you were going to say that, Shane."
She smiled. "So, do we have tonight?"
.....If the night
belongs to lovers,
Then in this eternal night
All of time should be ours....
together has been so sweet,
But I have learned....
Nothing is certain but change.
In the old
days, they would have said
We must live as sister and brother now.
I cannot think of you as that, my love.
I will look
in your eyes and remember passion there.
I will feel some casual touch of your hand,
And my body will ache for your caress.
will wait for you forever.
Duty is a poor substitute for your embrace,
But it will have to be enough.....
Shane saved the file without adding anything else except the date, and put her diary back in her locker. Nita and Lisa were sitting on Lisa's bunk passing a well-worn magazine back and forth, trying to figure out something new to do with Lisas straight, black hair. She remembered a time when she and 'Phousse had done things like that. Just yesterday they had been in basic together!
For a moment, she was a teenager again, as for the first time she was left alone in the lifeguard tower. Seeing to the safety of the people on the beach below was her duty. Once again she wondered if she was really ready for the responsibility. She felt her lack of years and experience. But this war had cost lives enough that she wasn't the only one her age heading up a squadron.
Lisa and Nita made no move to actively include her. She was their C.O., they didn't know the back story. And, in the end, they and Jimmy and Kenny were why things had to be the way they had to be. They put their lives on the line to follow her orders. Because of what she was, not who she was ... they looked up to her, respected her ... trusted her.
Neither she nor Ty had it in them to betray that trust ... and breaking the regulations against fraternization would have been a betrayal, would have been acting as though the same rules didn't apply to them. So, tonight would be the last time for ... God only knew how long.
Tomorrow was soon enough to count the cost.
She felt a slow grin spread across her face. CMCD had a hell of a nice ring to it....
If, for Ty and herself to be together, she had to change her own ambitions ... her father had done that so that he and her mother could marry. He had never regretted it, and now Shane understood that.
It was a slow evening at the Tun. Judy Ellison took a long draft from her beer. "I'm telling you, TC, somebodys down there and it aint the chigs," she said in a low voice.
"What makes you think that?"
She scowled, shook her head. "Nothing specific, but I know it. You remember how ... nothing may be showing on your LIDAR right this instant but ... if hes out there you know it?"
He nodded. "I remember, Judy." There was nothing psychic about that ... it was nothing more than an experienced pilot's ability to process a lot of minor details in the background, and subconsciously come up with the right answers. Really, it was one of the talents that kept you alive long enough to become "experienced."
"Well," she continued, "Someone's living on that rock. As soon as I put my finger on why I know that...!"
McQueen thought about it, and said, "Be careful, Judy, this is the kind of system the pirates used to love ... lots of cover and plenty of reliable wormholes."
"Sure, nine tenths of them going directly to Chigsville," she replied, savoring the taste of ice-cold Sam Adams after too many hours in her cockpit. She shrugged. "My photo-interp pal is enhancing some images I got, I'll see if anything jumps out at me ... if it doesn't, I've got real work to do." But she still sounded troubled.
"Whats the matter, Judy?"
"TC, I think it's a wildcat colony down there," she admitted. "You know how it used to be, a lot of splinter groups sold everything they had and booked passage on whatever flying coffin would transport them off-world."
"I know, then six months later we'd get a call for a rescue and pull off twenty or thirty starving refugees ... or else we'd send down a burial detail. Most of these idiots had no idea how to survive in an alien biosphere. They thought if it was green with blue sky, it was just like Earth ... and a lot of them were dead wrong."
Judy nodded, he wasn't telling her anything she hadn't already known. "Well, I'm thinking ... this bunch was either smarter or luckier. But I'm telling you, theyre down there."
"So why haven't they picked up our skipchatter by now and hailed the Sara?"
She shook her head. "Back-to-nature freaks? Like the ones who run around in the woods naked and pound on drums to get back to their spiritual origins?" She grinned irreverently.
He shook his head. Those kind always seemed to have a comms shack, so they could hail you and tell you to keep your stinking technology away from their little corner of paradise. Crazy as McQueen thought they were, they often put together successful colonies, because they respected their environment and lived in harmony with it ... and because their definition of "successful" was usually extremely Spartan in anyone else's opinion. "If youre right about someone being down there, it's possible that they dont want to be found. If you've discovered some kind of separatists, you'd better watch your six. Some of those groups were fairly well armed, and they really hated the UN, as I remember." He had a mental image of some terrorist tracking Judy's Stingray through the sights of a rocket launcher.
Judy hadn't survived her very dangerous job as long as she had by ignoring nasty possibilities like that ... but she didn't concern herself about them either. "Well," she said thoughtfully, "They were right, in a real weird way ... we did end up with one world government. Sort of. I haven't seen any black helicopters though, lately, have you?"
McQueen studied the bar lights through the amber liquid swirling in his glass. He wasn't sure the black helicopter crowd had been completely wrong, not with what he knew now about Aerotech. He didn't want to open that can of worms this evening, however, so he just wisecracked, "You know what they say, Judy ... just because youre paranoid...."
"....Doesnt mean they arent out to get you," she completed, grinning. "Right, TC."
McQueen was standing at his viewport when Vansen got to his quarters that evening. She paused to lock the hatch behind her before she joined him there. "What do you see out there?" She asked quietly.
"Freedom," he said after a time. "In the mines, we never saw the sky. When we boarded the cargo ship that took us off Omicron Draconis, I looked out through a viewport and...." For once, words totally failed him. He turned to her, there was an intense emotion shining in his blue eyes that said everything words could not. "Shane, can you imagine what that was like? There was all of infinity, right there on the other side of that glass."
"The first time I saw it from out here, it took my breath away. Ty ... they kept you in the mine all that time? Until you were free?"
He nodded. "We were decanted on the merchantman that took us out there from Alaska. I dont remember much about that. It takes a few weeks ... I was already working in the mine by the time I knew where I was."
Shane held him close. "The rest of us will never understand fighting for freedom ... not the way that you and Anita do. You know what freedom is, and what its like not to have it."
He nodded. "You understand fighting for your family. I didnt ... until that time I saw Danny Wolfe holding you at gun point."
Shane said, "You wait until its a little one. If anyone ever tried to lay a hand on Marion or one of my sisters, I could kill him without thinking twice. And if I'm that protective towards them, what parents must feel about their children!"
" 'Wait'. Shane, you know...."
She looked at him, and finally said, "One of my foster fathers wasn't able to have children. I don't understand how exactly, but they fertilized one of his wife's eggs with some of his DNA. My foster mom said that kind of thing was pretty common after the fertility plague. I'm sure theres got to be something--!"
"Amy was so against it that I never looked into it that much."
"Well, when it's time, we'll look into it," Shane said. She kissed his fingers as he stroked her face.
"I love you, Shane."
"I love you. Always, Ty. This thing will work itself out, we'll still be together."
He kissed her. "Always," he whispered against her lips, and then they kissed again. For a long time, nothing else in the universe was of any importance except each other.
Shane held him close and said softly, "Oh, God, what have we got ourselves into? How are we going to live without this? I think it would be easier to give up breathing!"
"I know," he comforted her quietly. "But we can do whatever we have to do, to get the job done. We have all our lives, Shane."
She nodded, as always finding his strength enough and more when her own failed. For now, she didnt want to think about tomorrow. They had tonight.
Ross stared at Ellison's photos. "How many of them do you figure are down there?"
"Well, I counted about thirty houses. Figure a family of three to five people to a house ... thats ninety to 150 of them. Personally, I'd guess that the figure is higher, because that doesn't count the old folks, and these wildcat colonists tend to go forth and multiply. Also, the size of the herds of cattle and the area of cultivated fields would indicate a larger population."
"Right ... so a lot of the population will probably be children."
McQueen said, "We don't have a very big window to get those people offworld before this system turns into a battleground. The chigs will have to try to take this planet to keep it out of our hands, they know we need it for a staging area."
Ross said, "You're right, Colonel. Take the 5-8 and a medical team, go down there and assess the situation. I hope those people have the sense to pack up their suitcases and line up to climb on the transports. If they do, we'll start pulling them offworld immediately. If they don't, for the sake of the kids in the colony, I'm prepared to put the whole place under martial law and take them off by force. Ty, if the colonists do refuse to cooperate, then make sure we do this right the first time. I don't want a Jonestown, if this colony turns out to be some kind of fanatics."
McQueen said, "Yes, sir."
<End Part One>
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