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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 acknowledges my rights to them.
copyright Becky Ratliff March 1998
The Ganelon Gambit
From the bridge of the USS Saratoga, Commodore Glen van Ross watched the latest fleet of ISSAPCs line up to return Rotation 4 of the crew from shore leave on Ganelon. As soon as his XO reported, Ross was ready to take his own shore leave with the last rotation of the crew.
The last of the maintenance was completed and all that remained was taking aboard supplies. The Saratoga's brief rest here had been a godsend to her weary crew, and Ross hoped it would be enough to last for a while. When the Sara raised anchor to leave the Charlemagne system this time, it would be to join a fleet gathering for the final assault on the chig home system. Ross doubted there would be another such break before the end of the war. From here on out, they would be fighting their way deeper into the chig home system, until they reached the chig homeworld itself. Victory was within sight, but it would not be cheaply or easily won.
Harris came onto the bridge exactly five mikes early, as usual. She'd been telling him for the last three days what a great time she'd had on leave. She'd come back with a sunburn and a smile on her face. She picked up her coffee cup and joined him. "All set, sir?"
Ross grinned. "Packed and ready. I've taken our normal precautions against sabotage during resupply, but with all the traffic you'll want to keep an especially close eye on the docking areas. Other than that it's business as usual. You have the conn, Loretta."
"Thank you, sir." Then she gave him a warm smile. "Have a good time, Glen."
He grinned back on his way through the hatch.
"You know, Shane, you still have time to change your mind and spend your leave at New Waikiki with the rest of the Wild Cards."
Shane looked up. "Are you trying to get rid of me, Ty?"
"Of course not. You just might have more fun at a luau on the beach than you will visiting someone else's relatives out in the middle of nowhere."
"I'd watch the 'Cards have fun at a luau, Ty, but I wouldn't be part of the fun. You know that."
McQueen initialed the last few reports and fed them one by one into the scanner. "They say rank has its privileges, but it has its price, too."
Vansen acknowledged that with a nod, eyes downcast. As she had gained confidence in her position as commanding officer of the Wild Cards, a distance had necessarily grown between them. She wasn't "one of the guys" anymore, she was their leader. Even as she had their unquestioned loyalty now, she no longer could reach out to them for companionship. Even so, when she looked up at him, it was with a warm smile. "What better chance am I likely to get to spend some time with you, than with the Commodore there as chaperone? There won't be a raised eyebrow in sight."
That got her a smile in return. "I need to take care of a couple of things with the CAG. I'll meet you on the flight deck in a few minutes."
Ross stepped briefly into his cabin to change clothes and pick up his sea bag. He paused at his bookcase to look at the newest addition to his photograph collection, snapshots of Alison and Heather side by side in a double frame.
It didn't seem possible that it had been over a month since those pictures had been taken. Hadn't it been just yesterday he had put the two of them on a transport home?
Once they'd started an email correspondence, it had swiftly become an every-day thing. At first it had been just brief video recordings, the typical hello and how are you and I miss you of new friends with miles between them. After a time, they had begun to script the videos ahead of time to get everything in. Finally he had gotten one from Alison that was one small image of Heather and the rest plain text -- pages of it, compressed into the rationed 1K of bandwidth. After that, like so many others who depended on the spacenet for communication with far-away dear ones, they had rediscovered the lost art of actually writing letters. The subject ranged from books they had read to anecdotes about the day's happenings ... words carefully chosen to get past the censor!
God forbid that a day went by without a message. At those times he remembered that Alison lived in an isolated agrostation six hours' drive from the nearest town. Even back on Earth, agriculture had its dangers. Heavy equipment malfunctioned. Chemicals spilled. Add to that all the hazards of living on an alien frontier lined up right outside her screen door. Had something happened to her? Had Heather taken ill again? He would force his concerns to the back of his mind and do his job ... and check his mailbox every chance he got until the awaited message appeared. It was enough to know it was there, he could stop worrying and wait until he got off duty to read it.
Glen had been around the block often enough that he knew the difference between infatuation and real love. At least, he had thought he knew the difference, until Ali had walked into his life and turned everything upside down.
He had known her for less than three months, grand total. They had so little in common, where was the foundation that could support a life together? Until Ali came along, he hadn't even really thought about "after the war" in anything other than career terms. But more and more, that was what he thought about... the different ways they might be able to make a life together after the war. As friends, as lovers ... in a few unguarded moments, the phrase "Mrs. Glen Van Ross" was really starting to have a ring to it, and that scared the living hell out of him. There were a lot of good reasons why he had decided to stay single. None of those reasons had changed with Ali ... especially with Ali. The last thing he wanted to do was get either of them hurt.
He couldn't imagine, though, doing anything to ever hurt Alison ... or she him. He decided to take a page out of Ali's book and live right now for all it was worth -- let tomorrow take care of itself.
He didn't really need to take that much with him for a twenty-four-hour pass, but he had his seabag stuffed with gifts for Ali and Heather. He slung the heavy bag over his shoulder and headed for the flight deck.
The ISSCV's flight path took it over Ganelon City. From the air, it looked like a pie, with several districts fanning out from the very modern city center.
Three quarters of the city was residential. The neat white buildings of the company housing compounds filled one slice, and for the company people and their families who lived there, it might have been a suburb of any desert city back home. They allowed only enough of Ganelon into their community to provide some local color. Another section was the gray prefabricated apartment complexes inhabited by the city's blue-collar workers, most of whom were In Vitroes. These two areas were separated by an area known as The Strip, a business district that served both. The Strip also had numerous shops, bars, hotels and restaurants that catered to travellers and military personel on leave. This was the tourist area of Ganelon City that one saw in the travel brochures. The fourth quarter of the pie was the downport, and the wide end of the triangle was the Groundside. Rowdy, bawdy and potentially deadly, the local chamber of commerce wasn't about to admit that it existed. It was said that a traveller could find anything for sale in the Groundside ... some things were just more expensive than others, that was all.
Most of the people on shore leave had chosen to spend their time in Ganelon City, or in the seaside town of New Waikiki. Only Ross, McQueen and Vansen were travelling out into the desert. They parted with the 58th as soon as they debarked from the ISSCV, since the kids had to run several blocks to catch the transport to New Waikiki.
It was beastly hot on the tarmac, but there were wide awnings over all the sidewalks, catching the infrequent breezes and providing necessary shade against the dangerously intense sunlight. Ross asked, "Did anyone see a sign for the motor pool?"
Vansen looked around. "No, sir, but the guy I talked to said to head straight in along the main drag of the downport. I guess in would be towards the city center."
"In that case, it has to be this way."
McQueen flagged down a Marine Corps hummer. "Where's the motor pool, Corporal?"
"About four blocks down yonder--" Then the kid recognized him in his civies, and added a sharp, "Sir!"
McQueen sent the kid on his way and the three of them headed down the sidewalk.
The traffic was incredibly varied. Tourists with identical "authentic native straw hats" and cameras around their necks, plastered the windows of an air conditioned tour bus, taking in the sights of the city. A huge truck fresh from one of the co-ops rumbled along behind them, riding low under a cargo of sealed shipping drums of aloe gel. A long black limo with dark windows cruised along impatiently behind it until it turned off the street into one of the company landing pads. The sign by the gate said "Agropoint", and an armed guard gave the three of them a sharp look before she locked the gate behind the limo.
For the hell of it, Ross glared back at her, but his fun was interrupted by a crowd of rowdy farmboys tromping down the sidewalk. One of them pushed another so he lost his balance and nearly tumbled into Vansen, he turned red as a beet but gave her a very appreciative grin. "'Scuse me, ma'am."
Before he could answer, one of the other guys laughed, "Ain't no excuse for you, George!"
Vansen grinned and winked at the kid, which only flustered him more -- but he sure didn't seem to object too much, either. Both parties went on their way in high spirits. It wasn't far from there to the motor pool.
They shut the door behind them quickly to keep the cool air inside. While Ross and McQueen stood at the window talking, Vansen joined the queue to claim their vehicle. The girl there quickly produced the paperwork. "If I may have your signature here, Major?"
Vansen signed and pocketed the set of keys she got in exchange.
The headquarters of the Agropoint Company on Ganelon was a square tower of mirrored windows that soared over the downport at the edge of the city center. Marc Sederis stepped out of his limo and walked a few steps to the private elevator that went directly to his top floor offices. Once there, he threw his bag in a closet and stood next to the air conditioner for a moment.
His chief of security, Stanley Giraldo, put an ice cold glass in his hand. Without having to look at it, he knew it was his favorite blend of iced herb tea from Groombridge. "How was New Waikiki, Marc?"
"Mission accomplished -- I closed the deal this morning. Any new developments on the loading dock fire?"
"Got the final report back from the fire marshall, and his finding was inconclusive."
"How much doubt is there that the damn tanks set it, because they thought we torched their warehouse?"
"Quite a bit of doubt, as far as I'm concerned. When an amateur sets a fire, you don't usually get an inconclusive report from the fire marshall, do you, Stan?"
"No, sir, I've got to admit you don't."
Sederis walked over to the window, with his drink still in his hand. "Maybe that's the end of it."
Giraldo snorted. "You've never been one for wishful thinking, Marc."
He looked at his old friend over the rim of his glass. "Yeah, I know that. Maybe this one is serious enough for me to start. I know a lot of the In Vitroes out on the stations, and I trust Ali Brown. Her people are not doing this."
"Her people ain't the only ones out there, boss. Even they admit there are enough hotheads and radicals who think the only good nat is a dead one."
"And whose fault is that?" Sederis countered. "But the times they are a-changin', and nobody knows that better than the co-ops. There's plenty of room on Ganelon for us all to have a good life here. All you need is to be willing to sweat to get it. Nobody wants to be a revolutionary in a booming economy, Stan, it messes up your whole bottom line. People on both sides are too busy making money to worry about old grudges now. If we do have a few malcontents, they'll turn up eventually, as soon as they find another book of matches lying around somewhere."
Stan laughed. "Yeah, it's my job to make sure it ain't your chair they light a fire under."
The hummer cruised along at a steady 85 mph, Vansen had not seen any speed limit posted. Nobody complained about the gale-force wind whipping in through the open windows, because it had finally started to feel marginally cooler. Driving slower than that, the open windows just let more hot air in. This kind of road was made for two speeds: stop and go.
An eighteen wheeler blasted by them in the opposite direction, the only other vehicle they had seen in an hour. There had been a lot of traffic right outside the city, and the occasional farm truck since. Once they had seen the highway patrol fly over, but that had been a while ago. Vansen commented, "Long way between cars -- I'd hate to break down out here!"
McQueen said, "There's a lot of survival gear and spare parts in the back. It looks like you'd better be prepared for a long wait for 911, if anything goes wrong out here."
Ross said, "I asked Ali about that, Ty, I was worried about what would happen if Heather got sick out here. In the case of a real emergency, they can get an air ambulance virtually anywhere there are people in fifteen or twenty minutes at most. Nearly all the stations have a transport or a helo of their own, for that matter. I doubt they would be impressed if you called 911 for help with a flat tire, though."
Vansen looked out over the rocky landscape. "You'd be in uncharted wilderness three meters from the side of the road," she commented.
McQueen and Ross looked out over the desert landscape. There was a temptation to describe the journey as a long stretch of nothing. It was anything but barren, though -- on closer inspection there were signs of life everywhere. Most of the plants were tough and spiny like cacti back home, but here and there was an actual tree. None of these islands of blue was more than fifteen feet tall ... they grew out instead of upwards, supported by a thick clump of dozens or even hundreds of trunks. Usually there was only one, brooding over its surroundings -- the one time they had seen three of them together, they had marked a waterhole.
That had been a good place to stop and stretch their legs. There were lots of tire tracks, and a sign proclaimed the water to be safe to drink. They hadn't lingered long, though ... in the sun-baked mud near the edge of the water hole, they had seen the tracks of some large creature with claws as long as a grown man's fingers.
Now and then, a driveway marked with a sign turned off and disappeared into the desert. Only once was the little settlement it led to visible from the road. Several shiny white geodesic domes stood in neat rows to one side of a few large barns.
They turned off the main road onto a dirt track when they came to a crisply lettered sign that read "Brown's Station." On either side of the lane grew long, neat rows of aloe plants like bright blue ribbons braided into Ganelon's sandy brown hair. They slowed down to follow a big closed-cab tractor pulling a chemical sprayer up to the buildings at the center of the station.
Vansen pulled the hummer into an empty slot in the gravel parking lot between a big truck and a battered van. Nearest the lot was a large barn, with the station's business office located in an air-conditioned shed on one side. The farmhouse wasn't anything like Glen had been expecting. He'd had the Midwestern USA stereotype in mind, of a big two-story house with white siding and a wide, shady front porch. This, rather, was a multi-colored collection of prefab units, added on as needed, arranged in a circle around a central courtyard. Glen doubted that it was any accident that the circle had been located to encompass one of the short, wide-spreading fortress-like trees that they'd seen out in the desert. They needed the shade in this heat. The outside windows were sheltered with wide awnings to keep the sun out and catch the breezes. The "front porch" was a whole unit with screened sides.
They turned to the office, Alison was standing in the door. She pulled on a wide-brimmed hat as she crossed the gravel lot to join them. "I see you found the place!"
"The people at the motor pool gave us pretty good directions," McQueen told her.
She hugged each of them in turn. "Come on up to the house, it's too hot to be out in this sun. Around here we stay in the shade during the hottest part of the day, you can blister right through your shirt in this! How long can you stay?"
Glen said, "Until tomorrow."
Alison was disappointed at that, she had been hoping for a longer visit. "Well, that's time enough to show you around, and you'll at least have time to look around the fair a little before you have to go back," she said.
There were several people working and talking in the shade of the screen room. All of them looked up when strangers came in. A couple of large ceiling fans kept the air moving. A large pitcher in the center of the main table brimming with iced fruit juice. Some small children were napping in a big hammock, and Heather and a little boy her age were lying on the floor quietly coloring. She jumped up and darted across the room to them as soon as she saw them.
Alison introduced them to the adults in the room. Heather´s playmate hid behind his mother, and Glen saw only slightly less suspicion in the eyes of the adults when they looked at him and Vansen.
The little boy's mother reached for a crutch and stood up, first greeted TC then Glen and Shane. "I'm Jessa Lane, this is my son Jonathan. Welcome to Brown's Station."
Glen smiled back at her. "Thank you, ma'am." He remembered that Alison had told him Jessa had taken her son to Earth when she'd been freed from her indenture, and while she was living there her apartment building had been set on fire by a gang of Klansmen or some similar outfit. Jessa had saved her life and her son's by jumping out of a third story window with him, but she had terribly crippled her leg in the process.
Jessa was second in seniority here to Alison. The rest had been waiting for her to pass judgment before they accepted him and Shane as guests in this house. After that, they were at home here. A young man offered to show them some empty bedrooms, and everyone else went back to whatever they had been doing.
Their guestrooms were tiny, but comfortable. Alison explained, "Babies stay with their mothers until they're about Heather's age, then as soon as we can after that we give them their own rooms. You can just walk in anywhere you like on the station, any time -- none of the common rooms are private. But you never go in someone else's room without knocking. There's a lock, but you really wouldn't need it -- no one will come in here without asking first."
Shane remembered how territorial Cooper was about his rack, and how even when they had been sleeping together she'd always felt a clear boundary in Ty's quarters -- a boundary that she was among the few people who were priveleged to cross whenever they liked. A free person had the right to set a boundary like that: "This place is mine."
She followed the young man to her room, between the two men's, and set her seabag in the little closet.
The other main taboo, besides invading another person's privacy, was a product of the desert environment: Thou shalt not waste water. They were already accustomed to similar strict regulations on shipboard. Beyond that, there didn't really seem to be any rules.
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