This story is rated PG-13 for language. It refers to characters and situations introduced in my previous fanfic, The Box. If you havent seen it, please read it first!
The Darkest Night
Promises to Keep
An Echo of Yesterday
Even Kittens Have Claws
Degrees of Guilt
A Very Merry Christmas
There is much more fanfic available on the WWW. These are two of the finest archival sites for SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND fanfic:
Mission Status - Space: Above and Beyond
Space Above and Beyond Creative Works Center
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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.
Marcy, Jimmy Avery, Anita Moore, Lisa Yamauchi, Kenneth Martin Lucas, Georgeanne Jeffords and 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.
Thanks to Patrice and Claudia for all their help.
New members of the 58th squadron
Lt. James Trey Avery Jr.
Lt. Anita Queen of Spades Moore
Lt. Lisa Joker Yamauchi
Lt. Kenneth Martin Ten of Diamonds Lucas
copyright Becky Ratliff, October 1996
(Groombridge Agro-7, June 2064)
Corn grew very well on Groombridge 4. That was the reason for the colony's existence here. Twenty years ago, all of the workers here had been In Vitroes. Soon after, the government had begun indenturing felons here to pay off their debts to their victims. Unlike the IVs, whose indenture was over after five years if they could survive that long, the prisoners were here until they worked off whatever settlement they were sentenced to pay. That might be a month or two for a rich criminal, or a lifetime for a poor one. The AIs had begun arriving after the Ho Chi Mihn City accords. Marcy had been here in Agro Camp #7 for five years.
At first, it had been very hard. As one of the few AIs here not infected with the Stranahan virus, she was in a great deal of danger from those who were. The NB criminals hated the AIs and the tanks, who could outwork them and kept the quotas high. The IVs mistrusted her because they had learned that the Stranahan AIs were not to be trusted, and they had no way to tell the difference. She had learned quickly to be wary, circumspect, and ruthless with anyone who threatened her. But gradually she had earned the respect of the others. After a time, the colony's predators began to see the new people as easier pickings, and they left her alone for the most part. And so the last few years had passed, long weeks of boredom punctuated by the occasional episode of sheer terror.
Things had changed about a month ago, and it was all because of a needle and thread. She had ripped her uniform and asked for sewing things to mend it. It had seemed such a simple request, but the guard had been suspicious. He knew most AIs didn't care if their clothes were torn, and he thought she had some nefarious plan for the needle -- like poking him in the eye with it, or something. She had thought she had managed to talk her way out of it when the overseer had sent her back to the barracks unharmed. Nothing more had been said about the incident, and she had taken care not to attract any more attention.
Then a couple weeks ago, she had noticed a man watching her as she worked. At first, she had paid attention only to the business suit he was wearing and taken him for an Aerotech inspector. But then a couple days later, she had seen him again, this time in the company of two Marine officers. But they hadn't done anything, just watched her. The whole thing was very curious, and very ominous...change was likely to be trouble!
She had seen service people around since the war had started. She knew little for certain about the war. At first there had been wild rumors among the prison population that chig POWs were going to be sent here. As the months had dragged on, there had been more rumors...that they were winning, that they were losing, that Earth had fallen and Groombridge was going to be wiped out just like two other colonies. That one had nearly started a panic and a riot ... fortunately the governor of the colony himself had convinced everyone that the rumor was unfounded. Then a few days ago she'd overheard some of guards celebrating because the war was supposedly over, that the chigs were either offering or accepting terms of surrender -- depending on who she was listening to at the time. Apparently that had been just another rumor, because surely if the war really was over they would have heard something official about it by now. Still, the rumors broke the monotony. Marcy hoped for an end to the war, but she had been a prisoner in peacetime and a prisoner in wartime. Since her personal situation was unlikely to change either way, the war seemed very far away most of the time.
The job she had right now wasn't too bad, she drove a picker. June was harvest time here, and the crop had been a good one. She was taking a full trailer load back to the granary. When she arrived and turned in her load they sent her to the office. Along with the foreman were the man in the suit and the two Marines.
The foreman told her shortly, "You've been reassigned. Go with these people."
She didn't like the looks of the man in the suit. As she had suspected, he was an Aerotech man, though probably not a mere inspector after all, his watch and the diamond ring he was wearing were too expensive-looking for that. The two Marines obviously disapproved of her on principle. One of them was a brigadier general named Jeffords, she was a tall woman with gray hair and a harsh, weathered look about her. The other, somewhat younger, was a full Colonel named Penderson. He was looking at her as if she were a rather disgusting lab specimen. He immediately went straight to the top of her list of People Likely to be Trouble.
They took her out a side door, and she got into a humvee with the two Marines and their driver. She fell back on the same tactics that she had found kept her out of most trouble with the guards... keeping her eyes downcast and speaking only if spoken to.
They took the turn to the airstrip. An ISSCV and its escort of fighters waited there. General Jeffords turned to the driver and said, "Inform the Major that I'd like to take off as soon as possible, and find out how soon we can raise ship."
"Yes, ma'am!" He headed for a corrugated metal building at the edge of the strip. Jeffords got out of the humvee, she still moved with an easy, fluid grace despite her years. Without a backward glance, she headed for the ISSCV.
Penderson turned to Marcy. "Come on, you."
She followed them. General Jeffords was speaking to one of her pilots when they came aboard the ISSCV. Marcy was very aware of the hostile looks she was getting from all the Marines present. After a few minutes, the Lieutenant returned and reported, "Major Talbot says we can take off at your convenience, General."
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Let's get these birds in the air -- wheels up in ten mikes. Secure the prisoner."
She was locked into one of the small cargo bays at the rear of the vehicle. They lifted off presently, and Marcy left her life as a prisoner behind her forever.
Once they were safely away from Groombridge, she was escorted back out to the main bay. General Jeffords waved her to a seat across the table, which she took. "I'm sure you're wondering what's going on."
"Yes, ma'am," she replied.
Jeffords snapped, "Look at me and speak up when you answer me! I've looked plenty of AIs in the face before, I'm not going to blow your head off because I see crosshairs instead of baby blues, understand?"
"Yes, ma'am!" She looked up, tried to read the expression in the General's eyes. Even if she had been given to the Stranahan AIs' penchant for gambling, she wouldn't have wanted to play cards with this woman.
Jeffords nodded. "You might just do. What's your name?"
"Marcy S387. Ma'am." Marcy fought the urge to fidget. If she had been human, she was sure her mouth would have been too dry to speak. Through all the scrapes she'd gotten into and out of, she had never been so thoroughly frightened in her life as she was just sitting across the table from this woman.
"Okay, Marcy S387, tell me your life story."
She said, "I was activated in 2046 and sold to Crosswell Industries, I was in the secretarial pool there until the war started. Crosswell sold off all its AIs at an auction, I was bought by Delgado Salvage and then in 2058 I was sold to some prospectors. In 2059 their ship was damaged in a fight with pirates in the Timorra system. They left us there--myself and Tina C8038. Tina was killed by the pirates. A Marine named Major McQueen was also captured, I helped him escape and turned myself in to him. From there I was sent to Groombridge Agro-7, until now."
"Why did you help Major McQueen?"
"Because...he wouldn't have been caught at all if he hadn't been trying to make sure his friend got away. Another Marine. I don't know her name, ma'am. And the pirates were going to kill him just like they killed Tina. I had to do something!"
"I...see. And why did you turn yourself in? You could have run away."
"There was nowhere to run to, ma'am. There's nothing on Macauley's World, except a few little mining camps ... and the miners would have shot me as soon as they'd seen me. The only chance I had was to turn myself in."
"And you trusted Major McQueen not to do the same thing?"
"I had to. There wasn't anything else I could do. But he didn't seem like the kind of person who would shoot someone who had surrendered."
Jeffords demanded, "Why are you so scared of me, do you think I'm the kind of person who'd shoot a prisoner for no damn reason?"
"No, ma'am! I--I just don't know where you're taking me or what's going to happen."
"You're one of only a few AIs that we've confirmed to be fully sentient without having been exposed to the Stranahan virus. I don't know how much you've heard about the war, but things are not going as well for Earth as we might hope."
"I still don't understand what that has to do with me."
"Marcy, one reason that we're having trouble with the chigs is that we don't understand them. On the other hand, they don't show any signs of having that disadvantage where we're concerned. The one thing that all AIs do better than humans is to gather data and analyze it. The Stranahan AIs have always been limited in their ability to interpret that data and react to new situations."
"You, on the other hand...you don't seem to have that limitation. It's our hope that you'll be able to put that talent at analysis to work where the chigs are concerned. The data and insights you come up with may just help us turn this thing around."
"I-- I don't know anything about chigs, or fighting a war. But if there's anything I can do--"
"You haven't asked about the risks and the benefits."
"Well, you just implied we could be losing. If that happens, nothing else would really matter as far as risks to me are concerned. I wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell if the Stranahan AIs win. They're all one big group, they don't want AIs like me around who aren't loyal to that group. And I don't want any part of that."
Jeffords nodded. "I thought you'd see it that way. What I'm proposing is this, Marcy. We're going to set up an identity for you as a civilian employee of the defense department, working as an officer's aide on one of the carriers. Only the senior officers of the carrier and the people you work with directly are to know that you're an AI and what your real mission is. You'll report regularly directly to me. After the war, we'll help you keep that identity, or if it becomes necessary, we'll create a new one for you. You'll have your freedom, Marcy."
Marcy asked, How the hell am I supposed to pretend to be a human?! Everyone can tell just by looking--!
She heard Penderson stifle a laugh, and a grin slashed across the Generals face. Believe me, Marcy, AIs have been passing as humans for years! The targeting lenses have got to go, but Ive seen plenty of spies do pretty damn well for themselves without em. At that, Penderson did laugh out loud.
"You'll be trusting me with a lot."
"And if you let me down, I swear I'll find you. Personally." Jeffords stared Marcy straight in the eyes as she said that, and Marcy believed every word of it.
"I'll do my best."
"Over the next few days, we'll have some preliminary data for you on your new identity. As soon as we return to Earth, we'll insert you into a group of new employees. You'll be assigned to my office after that for a few weeks while we work out the final details of the operation, then you'll get your real assignment."
(Loxley, Alabama, June 2064)
The recruit bus was hot and sticky even with the windows down. After four years at MIT, Jimmy Avery had been well on his way to a promising career as a software engineer. He had inherited his dad's talent, there was very little he couldn't do with a computer. After graduation, he'd been ready to write his own ticket. His father's death at Groombridge had changed a lot of things. Avery had volunteered for AFT a week after the funeral.
The kid sitting next to him was a black guy from Mobile, he looked a few years younger than Jimmy. "Hey, college boy, what you doin' here?"
Avery looked at him. The question had been framed as a challenge, but he saw a friendly glint in the dark eyes that belied the tone of voice. After a time he replied, "Payback."
"My dad was a Marine. He was killed by AIs right after I graduated from school. I'm gonna make 'em pay."
"I hear you."
"What about you?"
"My draft number was comin' up. It was time to make some decisions."
A woman sitting behind them said, "Yeah, that's me. I'm Lisa Yamauchi."
The three of them looked over at the bus' other occupant. She was a big blond woman with a mean look in her eyes, she wore jeans and a faded denim jacket and didn't look like she had too many more belongings in the world. She stared back, riveting each of them in turn. "What're you kids staring at? Never seen a tank before?"
Avery replied, "I don't have a problem with you, unless you want to start one."
She finally laughed, "No, I don't think I do. My name's Anita Moore."
"So, why'd you volunteer?" Lucas asked her.
"As far as career choices go, I could push a broom or pick vegetables for the rest of my life, or I could volunteer. The Corps will pay for college."
"Yeah, but you wouldn't have had to volunteer for AFT for that."
Anita looked out into the distance. "No, I wouldn't have. After I finished my indenture and they shipped me back to Earth, I got a job as a janitor at the Marine Corps base at Dallas. One day I decided I was tired of watching other people fly those beauties, I want my turn."
"You could get killed," Avery said.
"So what else is new?" She grinned. "You know anybody who's gonna live forever?"
Lisa said, "Me."
Kenny said, "You're crazy, girl."
"I've had people tell me that before," she replied.
The bus slowed to make the turn off the highway. Avery turned to look out the window. It didn't look like the place had changed a bit since hed first seen it as a little boy. Jimmy knew, though, that was an illusion. Nothing would ever be the same again.
<End Part One>
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