The Newbies

Part Six -- by Becky Ratliff

Jimmy looked at the Admiral across his desk. “Why did you do it, sir?”

“In war, a few deaths are inevitable.”

“Begging the Admiral’s pardon, sir, I understand why you killed the engineer. He found out about you. He was working down in comms, wasn’t he? And discovered that the actual number of priority transmissions made disagreed with the logs?”


“What I don’t understand, sir, is why you were working with these people in the first place.”

“Because governing our society is a serious business, Jimmy. Your dad would have understood that. Some people are meant to lead, others to follow. Democracy is an excellent theory, but in practice ... in practice, son, the reins of power ended up in the hands of Diane Hayden. We can't have that in the middle of a war, don’t you see that? The control should be in the hands of people best able to wield it, a popularity contest can’t determine who that is!”

“Maybe not, sir, but it isn’t Aerotech. Who do you think put Secretary Hayden in power in the first place, sir?”

“Jimmy, I really wish you hadn’t got involved in this.”

“Admiral Booth, I grew up respecting you. You were one of my father’s best friends. But you betrayed him when you went over to Aerotech. Their treason twelve years ago got him killed. Do you really think I could stand down knowing that, sir?”

“No, I suppose you couldn’t.” Booth reached into his desk drawer for his sidearm.

Avery said, “It won’t do you any good to kill me, sir. I took precautions that you can’t avoid.”

“You haven’t left me with any choice, have you, son?”

“Yes, sir. You have a choice,” he replied. “Turn yourself in. Tell the truth and set right the things you’ve done. After what happened to your son, how could you work with the AIs?”

Booth said, “I didn’t know they were using AIs!” He raised the gun. “I’ll make this as quick as I can, Jimmy. I’m sorry.”

Avery realized he had miscalculated, probably fatally. He had taken into account that the Admiral was a traitor and a cold-blooded killer, but not that he was a madman.

Booth was giving him the chance to come at him, giving credibility to a plea of self-defense. Instead, Avery stood at attention, cool gray eyes never wavering from Booth’s.

“I believe I’ll decline that invitation, sir. If you want to fire, go ahead, but I’ll leave it to you to explain why you shot an unarmed man who was standing still, all the way across the room from you.”

“I will arrive at an explanation,” Booth replied. There was an honest regret in his voice.

Two regrets of his own found their way to the front of Avery’s mind. One was that he hadn’t left his mother a goodbye letter. The other was that he had not kissed Lisa on graduation night, even though he had wanted to do that.

The hatch whispered open, framing McQueen as he stepped into the office. “Admiral, put the gun down. I know what you did. You won’t take us both down before one of us gets to you.”

Booth said, “I can take you with me. That idea has its attractions.”

“You’ve been trying to pull that one off for several years now. You can’t accomplish anything with that gun except to make things worse for yourself. Put it down. Nobody has to die today.”

Avery said, “He’s right, sir. You can’t kill us both. Someone’s going to be left to tell the truth.”

Booth’s eyes flickered back and forth between the two of them. “The next time you’re in the O-club, do me a favor. Drink a toast to the Lady for me.” Both McQueen and Avery tried to stop him, but neither of them was near enough to prevent the Admiral from putting the automatic to his temple and pulling the trigger.

Avery called for a medic while McQueen checked for signs of life, but the Admiral had carried out his intent.

Jimmy said, “Sir, do we have to tell them what he did?”

“Explain that one, Jimmy.” McQueen said.

“He was Dad’s friend, and he was a good man once. I don’t know if he had any family left, but if he did -- Well, I just don’t see anything to be gained by having the whole world find out what he did when he probably wasn’t in his right mind. I think it’s what Dad would have done, sir.”

McQueen looked at him for a moment, then nodded. “All right, son, in the official reports we’ll just say we heard the shot from outside. Unofficially, we’ll let someone a lot higher up decide what gets out to the press.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Thank me after your C.O. gets done chewing your ass,” McQueen snapped. “You’re not out on your own any more, Jimmy. Everything you do has consequences to the rest of your unit as well as to yourself. You’d better decide right now if you can play on a team, because if you can’t, you don't belong in the 58th!”

Jimmy said, “It won’t happen again, sir. I screwed up. If I hadn’t acted on my own, the Admiral might not have got the chance to commit suicide.”

McQueen replied after a moment, “You weren’t responsible for that, son. The man made his own decision, he’d have found a way.” He shook his head. “He’s had that gun to his head for a lot of years, it just took him until now to fire it. You see, you asked him why he went over, but you never really got an answer. He blamed all In Vitroes for what happened to his son, and me in particular because I was handy ... and he blamed the liberal government." McQueen could see that Avery still didn't understand. "Jimmy, I think the fact was, the person he blamed for his son’s death was really David Booth. If he owned up to the spying, he’d have had to finally face the guilt he felt over that, and he couldn’t do it. That had a lot more to do with why he killed himself than facing the consequences of his crimes.”


McQueen hadn’t been kidding about the dressing down Avery got from Major Vansen as soon as she got her hands on him. Avery felt really bad that Moore, Lucas and Yamauchi got a good dose of it too on general principles, even though he’d gone out of his way to keep them out of it. “Ma'am, it was my fault, not anyone else’s.”

Vansen said, “Avery, you try telling that to the rest of the squadron if you pull something like this out on a patrol and get them killed! Do you understand me?”

He turned pale under the Alabama tan that still hadn’t had time to fade. “Yes, ma’am!”

“You had better, because chiggy won’t give you people the chance to screw up twice.”

This time the “Yes, ma’am” came from all four of them, and Vansen could see they really meant it. With the lesson learned, she let it go at that. She’d been mad as hell at Jimmy Avery for putting Ty in a situation where he had to face a nut with a gun. But she’d done things that had been just as stupid. They all had. They were the lucky ones, the ones whose stupidity hadn’t got them killed. Maybe some of that luck could rub off on these new kids.

She got herself a cup of coffee and took it to the table, gave the chip back to McQueen. “Were we that much trouble?”

“ ‘Were’?” He replied, giving her that wry little half-smile of his as he pocketed the chip. “What makes you think you still aren’t?”

“My condolences,” was her ascerbic reply, but there was laughter in her eyes as she looked at him over her coffee cup.

They were aboard the JFK for three more days, between the hearing and the investigation into the Admiral’s death. When Admiral Langdon arrived to take command of the ship, McQueen and Avery told her what had really happened. She listened, angry and saddened at the news. She turned to the port for a long moment, but had her emotions under control by the time she turned back to face them.

“You did the right thing by keeping this quiet. Let the other side wonder just how much, if anything, we know about it. In the meanwhile, we can determine how much damage has been done, and deal with it. Consider the whole incident classified until further notice.” Her gaze traveled to McQueen. “You served under Admiral Booth when you were with the 127th, didn’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am, the Angry Angels flew pirate suppression off the Kennedy about five years ago.”

“With some of the revelations that have come to light in the past couple of days, that can’t have been easy.”

“Professionally, Admiral Booth was a fine officer when I knew him,” McQueen replied quietly.

Admiral Langdon nodded. “That’s the way I’d prefer to remember him as well ... but I have the job of unraveling the mess he’s left. I never would have suspected that David was our mole.”

“Nor would I, ma’am, not if I hadn’t seen the evidence that Colonel Avery collected.”

Langdon turned to Jimmy. “Son, your father did his country a great service, one which I doubt will ever be properly honored. His actions have stopped a leak that cost who knows how many of our boys and girls their lives. The information that David Booth fed to Aerotech was finding its way into the hands of the enemy. We have you to thank as well, and I for one won’t forget it. Though I won't go into that too much, son, I’m sure you’ve heard a lot different opinion from your C.O. about the way you pulled it off.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

She shook her head. “Any landing you walk away from, right, Colonel?”

“Yes, ma’am.” She caught McQueen’s fleeting smile, and returned it. There was a comradeship in having in common that they had both once been the “new kid” ... such a very long time ago. It wouldn’t do to have today’s new kid realize that.

A few days after their return to the Saratoga, Shane watched Cooper and Christy leave the barracks together. He was telling her about all the excitement aboard the Kennedy -- or at least as much of it as they were allowed to talk about. She cleaned up a little because she had an appointment with Dr. O’Leary, after that she went by the office for a little while, and later dropped by Tun’s. She saw McQueen and Avery drinking some private toast, and wondered if she would ever know what all that was about.

She took the bar stool that Avery vacated when he joined several of the others at the 58th’s table. McQueen asked, “When did you get rid of your sling?”

“When I saw Dr. O’Leary today,” she grinned. “I was so glad to get rid of that thing!”

“Maybe now we can leave the damn spies to Intelligence.”

“No arguments here,” she answered. Seeing that McQueen had barely started on his drink, she waved her card at the tap, and the bartender brought her a beer. They joined the people at the table, about the same time as Cooper and Christy came in.


Marcy finished her report on her observations aboard the Kennedy. She wasn’t sure if there was anything in there that General Jeffords would find useful, at least she had a transcript of the conversation she’d overheard between the two AI saboteurs aboard the grain barge. She encrypted everything before she went on-line.

General Jeffords wasn’t at her desk, Penderson got her.

“How did it go?”

“The Stranahan AIs tried to wreck us, we were shot at a few times, and someone threw a gasoline bomb -- I think that’s about average,” Marcy said wryly.

Jeffords laughed. “Do you have something for me?”

“Well, maybe. It’s a little outside the scope of my assignment, but it may be useful.”

“Okay, I’m ready to receive the file now.”

Marcy started the file uploading, hoping the spacenet file monster wasn’t hungry. While it was going, the general asked, “Is everything okay?”

“I think so. They’re good people, General. All of them. I don’t want to -- be trouble, just by being around.”

Jeffords gave her a long, measuring look and finally advised, “They’re giving you a chance, give them one.”

Marcy nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

After the general signed off, Marcy sat down on her bunk. She had an inside cabin, nothing to look at but the four walls and the underside of the top rack. She was free to go anywhere the other civilian employees could go, and there was the whole world of the spacenet as near as her terminal.

Interaction with others meant more time spent living the lie, passing as human when she wasn’t. How long until she slipped up?

There was a tap at the hatch. “Who’s there?”

“Vanessa Damphousse.”

Marcy glanced at the computer to double-check that she’d cleared everything. “Yes, come in!”

Vanessa was dressed in civilian clothes, jeans and a sweater. “Marcy, I thought I’d find you here. I was wondering if you’d like to come down to the Tun with me.”

“I don’t know if that would be a good idea--” Marcy hedged, although the truth was, she found that she would like very much to go.

Vanessa said kindly, “It was Shane’s idea, she sent me to look for you.”

“Shane did?!”

Vanessa nodded. “It’s one step. Let’s take another.”

Marcy smiled. Give them a chance, the general had just said. All right. She’d wished for a friend or two to share her secret, well now ... just maybe ... she had found one. She quickly changed out of her duty uniform to jeans and a silky blouse, and the two of them walked down the corridor together.


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