The Newbies

Part Five -- by Becky Ratliff

By the time they finished their meal, they had been assigned quarters. Ordinarily Ty and Marcy would both have been assigned private quarters, but there apparently wasn’t room for that. It wasn't an unusual situation for the JFK to be crowded. What with the timing, though, McQueen and Vansen only had to exchange a glance to confirm that they both smelled a rat. She mouthed, “Trap.”

He nodded. They had a short list of options, though. Complaining about it would only alert whoever was setting them up that they were ready for another attempt, and wouldn’t have any other results. It would be impossible to completely avoid their assigned quarters for the length of their stay here. “Spring it,” he replied. Once there had been another attempt, not even Admiral Booth could argue their justification in taking steps to protect themselves.

She nodded once.

McQueen looked around the table. This kind of political gaming wasn’t what any of them had signed on for, and it certainly shouldn’t have included the new kids. Well, they were in it now, and he couldn’t change that.

The first thing they did when they got to the barracks was give it a thorough search, nothing out of the ordinary was discovered.

Lisa said, “What do you think they’ll do -- set off another bomb?”

Lucas said, “Nah ... I’d pump some kind of gas through the air vents.”

“Too complicated,” Hawkes objected.

Vansen realized they were going to speculate like that, and she’d might as well channel the energy to a useful purpose. “Think, people! Those things are both obviously murder. They want us out of the way to help cover up a scandal, not create a whole new one.”

Avery caught the ball and replied calmly, “Yes, ma’am. They want it to look like an accident. Possibly hole the bay? Does anyone know if they could do that without depressurizing anything else?”

Phousse took that up. “No, there are pressure doors at intervals but not that close. It would take out about three bays on either side of us. They might start a fire ... but there would be a good chance it would be put out by the sprinklers, or that we’d put it out ourselves. I don’t know ... Kenny, your poison gas idea ... they could cause a coolant leak in here. There are only three vents, though, in through the ceiling there, and out through the baseboard behind that bunk and in the head. The vent covers make a positive seal.” She checked them to make sure they hadn’t been tampered with.

As Vansen had hoped, that started them brainstorming instead of speculating pointlessly, which would have just made everyone nervous. Every time someone came up with a workable plan, someone else came up with an idea to counter it.

She sat down at the table with McQueen. “Who would’ve guessed we could come up with so many creative ways to commit murder,” she wisecracked softly. “I do believe we have criminal minds.”

McQueen said, “You’ve never been in a situation where you had to make something look like an accident, have you?”

Vansen shook her head. “No, I can’t say I have. You ... the mines, Ty?”

He nodded, but didn’t elaborate. Vansen found herself wondering just what had happened. She knew for sure that, under the circumstances, a plea of self-defense would have fallen on deaf ears. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know.... No one would suspect Aerotech if they believed someone else was responsible.... That’s the only way I can think of that they could avoid suspicion under the circumstances.” McQueen noticed Vansen trying to ease her shoulder to a better position, as she did when she was tired. Today had been hard on her and things weren’t going to get any better. “Get some rest, Shane, I’ll wake you later.”

Damphousse had been sitting quietly on her rack, McQueen noticed her rubbing her temple and caught her gaze. She shook her head and shrugged, nothing. She dropped down from her rack and walked over.

Cooper had a deck of cards, a poker game involving the three of them as well as Nathan and Lisa helped pass the time. Anita and Kenny were getting some rest, but neither of them was asleep. Jimmy had staked out the bottom bunk nearest the hatch, he had his computer out but he was paying a lot more attention to sounds in the corridor than to the code he was writing. Marcy was staying out of the way in the back of the bunkroom.

Jimmy heard noise in the hall and went to investigate. “Colonel, there’s three guys out here, it looks like trouble. It is, they’ve got rifles!”

That warning probably saved everyone’s lives, as everyone hit the deck. The three gunmen barged through the hatch firing. But McQueen, Hawkes and West had taken cover against the bulkhead by the hatch, and once the three were inside they jumped them from behind.

The one McQueen had hold of had the good sense to freeze when he felt a sharp knife at his throat, Vanessa grabbed his rifle. That took the fight out of the other two, they were quickly disarmed as well.

Marcy’s scream was all the warning they got of further danger. McQueen turned around to get a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of someone in the hatch holding something that was on fire. He flung what turned out to be an old-fashioned Molotov cocktail at the floor right in the middle of all of them. By then McQueen was already jumping at a second figure he’d seen behind that one, cut his throat an instant before his hand could close on his rifle grip. Lisa was caught right in the middle of the fire, Nathan tackled her and rolled her on the deck to smother the flames. Anita and Shane wrestled down the guy who’d thrown the fire bomb, while Kenny and Marcy grabbed blankets to beat out the flaming pool of gasoline in the middle of the deck. The sprinklers came on, for all the good that did against burning gas.

McQueen slammed his hand down on the fire alarm in the corridor, then he rounded on the assassin that Baker had pinned. Before he could carry through on his intention to beat a few answers out of him, though, the corridor was flooded with security personnel. McQueen told him, “We’re not finished yet!”

Shane had gone back inside to check on Yamauchi. She was very lucky that flight suits were fire resistant. She had some bad burns on her hands but other than that she was okay -- other than a severe scare.

Five mikes later, Admiral Booth was down there, having been hauled out of bed. Nathan got a look at the expression on McQueen’s face and whistled softly at Shane. “Incoming!”

Shane stepped to the hatch. Whatever was going on, it hadn’t started in this corridor, and it wasn’t going to end up here either.

Booth demanded of McQueen, “What the hell is going on here?”

“That would be a good question to ask these ... gentlemen, sir.”

“I’m asking you.” The corridor went dead silent.

“Sir. Those three came through the hatch firing. While we were busy subduing them the fourth one threw a firebomb which injured Lieutenant Yamauchi. That last one was preparing to fire into the room when I killed him, sir.”

McQueen’s voice was as cold as Vansen had ever heard it, and the hatred that burned in Booth’s eyes terrified her. She could feel an electric tension between the two men, but the veneer of military decorum didn’t slip a millimeter out of place. Booth ordered the master at arms, “Get these men to the brig. Major Vansen.”


“You’re C.O. here, correct?”

“Yes, sir!”

“I’ll expect full reports from you and your squadron immediately, as soon as you arrange for medical care for the lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir.”

Booth looked into the barracks, his eyes settled on Yamauchi for a moment. Still trying to control her fright from her close call, she looked much younger than her twenty-one years. Jimmy was beside her, keeping her company and trying to calm her down a little. Booth’s eyes widened in shock when he recognized the young man.

“Avery? Jimmy?”

He swung around and snapped to attention. “Sir!”

“You’re a member of this squadron?”

“Sir! Yes, sir!”

“Since when?” Booth asked, startled.

“I reported for duty yesterday, sir.”

“Did you request to be assigned to the 58th Squadron, son?” Vansen realized suddenly that Admiral Booth was silently offering his influence to get Jimmy reassigned.

“No, sir. But I was proud to have been selected for this assignment, sir.” Avery’s eyes blazed with anger as he realized the same thing, and threw the offer right back in Booth’s face. For a fleeting moment, Vansen was sure she saw Jim Senior standing there.

Lisa had turned dead white and only sheer pride was keeping her on her feet. Booth snapped, “Get that woman to sickbay on the double.” He spun on his heel and left, without waiting for replies.

Hawkes and West escorted Yamauchi to sickbay, there was no way of knowing who might have been bought off by Aerotech. Vansen didn’t relax until they got back. It was after colors before the master at arms got done with them.

Officially, the motive for the attack had been racism. The five would-be assassins were found to be members of the Patriotic Nation, a splinter group of the Klan. The Klan had indeed proven to be just as bigoted against In Vitroes as it was against their more traditional targets. There was no indication that the four survivors had been acting on Aerotech’s behalf.

Lucas said, “The damn Klan -- I didn’t know there was a real Klan anymore. I thought they were shut down for good back in my Grandpa’s day! He was an Atlanta cop, he helped raid some of their places when the Justice Department finally went after them back in the 30’s.”

McQueen replied, “The Klan is an idea. You can’t shut down an idea, not as long as there are people willing to believe in it. They keep the Klan and other outfits like that hiding in the shadows, waiting for the chance to grow.”

West said, “I can’t believe this wasn’t connected with Aerotech.”

“Neither does anyone else, but unless we have some proof it’s still conspiracy theory,” McQueen said.

Vansen looked around. “Where’s Avery?”

Moore said, “He went to the head, ma’am.”

Avery had actually not done any such thing. He ducked into an empty office and jacked his computer into an open port, input his father’s codes and downloaded the files he found. He waited until the corridor outside was clear, and ducked out to rejoin the others.

McQueen met him before he got there. Quietly he asked, “Lieutenant, are you aware of the consequences if you get caught making an unauthorized access to the JFK’s computer systems?”

Avery didn’t bat an eyelash. “Yes, sir. I could be shot as a spy, sir.”

“Was it worth the risk?”

“I don’t know yet, sir, my father had some files in a hidden directory. I haven’t had a chance to decrypt them yet.”

“The next time you feel that it’s necessary to pull a stunt like this, you run it by me first instead of going loose cannon, is that understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

McQueen and Avery caught up with the others.


Court proceedings started up precisely at 1400 hours ship’s time, which was 9:00 am in civilian time in New York. They waited to testify one by one concerning what they had seen on Vesta, the lawyers on both sides asked a lot of detailed questions. But with only that to go on, it was hard to gauge what was really going on in the hearing. They spent most of the time sitting in a nearby conference room waiting to be called to the stand.

The rest of them waited in their new quarters. Lisa was napping, Kenny had taken the pillow off his rack for her to rest her hands on. Her gelskin mittens kept her from doing just about everything, but the doctors said she should have them off before they left the JFK. Kenny, Marcy and Anita were watching television. Jimmy was working on decoding the files he had found.

He had most of his father’s decryption codes, so getting into the first two was easy. One had his name as its filename, and the other was for his mother. He hesitated before decrypting the one his father had left him.

Dear Jimmy,

Son, if you’re reading this, then you’ve had occasion to use those codes I gave you *just in case*.

It’s February of ‘64 when I’m writing this. In just a few months you’ll graduate, and you’ll be visiting your recruiter not too long after that, I’m sure. If this war goes on that long, and I’m cynic enough to expect that it probably will.

I don’t know what happened that I’m telling you how proud I am of you in this letter instead of face to face. Whatever it was, I hope you’re as proud of me. I hope I went out like a Marine.

Jimmy’s eyes swam with tears, he blinked until he could see the screen again.

Whatever went wrong, if you’re using these codes, then you had to break a few regs to get access, and that must mean you’re in a mess of your own. Without knowing what that is, there isn’t a lot of specific advice I can give you, except this: if you haven’t already told your Uncle TC and your Uncle Glen what kind of trouble you’re in, do it now. They’re the best friends I ever had in my life, and you can trust them if you can’t trust anyone else. Don't trust anyone aboard the Kennedy, there’s something rotten in Denmark and I don’t want you to get mixed up in it if you can help it.

There’s another file here for your mom with her name on it. See she gets it, she’ll know how to decrypt it.

If there are any more files besides these two, be careful with the contents. If I’ve got it hidden here, think long and hard about the consequences before you decrypt anything else you find here. Again, if it’s of a sensitive nature, go straight to Glen or TC with it. I won’t think anything the less of you if you decide to erase it unread, I don’t expect or even want you to endanger yourself by taking up my causes. But I know you, I know what kind of a man you are, and I know that’s probably an unrealistic thing to ask you to do if I’ve met with foul play. So I’ll just say don’t let your anger cloud your judgment -- use your common sense as you decide what to do. If it’s something like that, don’t waste too much time on payback. Do what you have to do, but I’d rather see you live a good life. Nothing you do is going to change what happened in the past. What matters is what happens in the future.

This is weird. I feel like I did when your mom and I were in the lawyer’s office making out our wills right after you were born. I’m trying to think what I should say to you in a letter that you’ll never read unless I die. I guess the most important thing is that I love you. I didn't say that enough while you were growing up, and this is the last chance I’ve got to say it.

You’re a grown man now, and I wish I’d spent more time with you while you were a kid. Somehow, now, looking back, the things I’ve accomplished in my career don’t seem as important as the milestones in your life that I missed. I’m proud to have served my country and my world. I hope to God I didn’t neglect my duty to my wife and my son in the process. If I did, forgive me. No honors or promotions can ever make up for the time you miss with your family. Don’t ever let anyone tell you it isn’t a sacrifice. It is, and I wasn’t the only one who made it -- so did you and your mother. You’re getting old enough now that you’re going to meet someone and start your own family sooner or later. When you do, think about that.

Take care of your mom. I’m thinking about her now as I write this, and I’ll be thinking about her with the last breath I take. The only advice I can give you about women is to marry one just like her, you’ll be a lucky man if you do.

You’ve probably followed me into the Corps. I haven’t tried to influence you either way, but I know what flying means to you and how bad you want it. If you did, be proud. I know you'll do a fine job. But if your life’s taken you in another direction that I didn’t see coming, Jimmy, don’t ever doubt that I’ll be proud of you as long as you give it your best -- whatever you decide to do.

One more thing. I’ve got my share of regrets, I guess. Things I did that I shouldn’t have, things I should have done that I let get by me. We all do that, son, put things off for a tomorrow that never comes. But all in all, knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have changed a damn thing. I’ve been pretty good at the things I’ve tried, especially as a father. I can admit to you now that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing most of the time and I made it up as I went along...but I must have been doing something right, considering the results I got from the work I put into it. But most of the credit for that goes to you, Jimmy.

With all my love,


Jimmy couldn’t keep the wracking sobs inside any longer. A moment later, he felt a strong arm around his shoulders and looked up into Anita’s eyes. She held him close.

“God, it’s hard, Nita. I can’t believe he’s gone.”

“I’ll never know what it is to lose a parent, Jimmy, and all I can do right now is thank God for that. I don’t know if I could stand the pain that I see in your eyes right now. But I know what it is to lose people that you love. I know that somehow you go on -- don’t ask me if that’s a blessing or a curse, but you do.”

“Thanks for being here, Nita.”

“Shit. I wanted to fly, Jimmy. I don’t go around expecting things to break my way very often. After Halleston ... I never thought I’d fit in anyplace. I sure never thought I’d find a bunch of people like you and Lisa and Kenny ... like the Wild Cards. In the middle of a war, already.” She shook her head. “Hell, I don’t know what I’m saying.”

Jimmy hugged her, and felt a warmth that started to ease the loss and the pain. “My dad said the people he served with were the best friends he ever had in his life. I guess I understand that now, Nita.” He drew a deep breath, and she felt a shudder run all the way through him. But he looked up with renewed determination. “I guess I’d better get this other file cracked before the big kids get back from court and take over the playground, huh?”

Nita laughed. “I guess so.”

Jimmy got back to work. The encryption on the third file was different, he had to work on it for quite a while before he got it decoded. When he did, he sat back staring. It was a file of excerpts from the ship’s communications logs, showing a series of classified transmissions sent every couple of weeks or so. Cross referenced with that was a list of staff meetings that the Admiral had participated in. The last entry was on the same day that his father had left with McQueen and Vansen for the Groombridge system. And every one of the classified transmissions had been sent with Admiral Booth’s authorization code.

Jimmy closed his eyes for a moment. He could imagine how his father had felt upon making the discovery that his old friend the Admiral was a traitor. Only the greater threat of the Golem’s escape from Sylurra had caused him to put this investigation aside ... and Jim Avery had never planned on dying there.

Jimmy got a chip from his pocket and copied the file to it. After a moment’s thought, he also copied his father’s message to his mother. When he was finished, he put the chip in an envelope and waited until no one was looking to put it on McQueen’s pillow. “I’m going to the library while this program runs,” he announced. “Anyone else?”

Just as he had expected, no one else had any desire to go to the library.


McQueen saw the envelope on his rack and slotted the chip inside. “I know where he’s gone. I’ll take care of it.” He put the chip in Shane’s hand. “Don’t let anything happen to this.”

“Be careful.”

He nodded, and closed her fingers around the chip. Then he went through the hatch. Shane sat down on her rack and looked at the chip for a long moment before she put it safely in her pocket.

<End Part Five>

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