Even Kittens have Claws

Part Four -- by Becky Ratliff

See Disclaimer Information in Part One


McQueen was working on his second cup of coffee when he heard Ross come in. “Good morning, sir.”

“’Morning, Ty.” The Commodore found his mug and poured black coffee into it. This morning he didn’t add his usual cream and sugar or stop to get a donut from the box beside the coffee urn. “Have you seen Lt. Damphousse since yesterday?”

McQueen was instantly on full alert, even after all these years Ross could still be startled by the intensity of that ice-blue stare. “Not since about 2000 last night at Tun’s Tavern, why?”

“There was an incident in one of the observation areas.”

“What kind of incident, sir?”

Ross told him what had happened. “Just what do you know about the Lieutenant’s psychic abilities, anyway?”

“No more than I’ve reported already.” Surely, if something had been wrong, Shane would have told him. “You say something...attacked her?”

“She described it more like someone shoved her.”

“I’ll check on her the first chance I get,” McQueen said.

“Do that, Ty.” Ross scowled thoughtfully into his coffee.

“Of course.”

Ross realized McQueen was still looking at him. “That’s all I know about it. But I don’t think she was hurt. I walked her back to the barracks, she seemed to be okay when I left her at the hatch.”

“Yes, sir.”


Christy didn’t finally get off duty until the end of first watch. Gloria dragged herself to her rack and immediately passed out, didn’t even stir when Christy put her blanket over her. Christy was tired, but not exhausted, she could go a couple days without sleep with no real problem as long as she made up for it the next night. She showered and changed, and tiptoed out to look for something to eat.

There was a crowd at the officers’ mess, she got a tray and joined the line. It was the usual soy burger and fries, which really wasn’t too bad with the application of enough ketchup. She waited in another line to get a milkshake.

By then, the tables the nurses had staked out were all full, there was no way they were going to cram one more person on the benches. Not even someone her size! “That’s okay, I’ll find something in the back!” She grinned.

That turned out to be in the *very* back. The cafeteria was L-shaped, and at the far end of the short leg of the “L” were a few tables where the engineering types usually sat. The rest of the ship usually thought they were geeks, and tolerated them only because they were Navy geeks. For their part, they tended to think everyone else on the ship was a mere ordinary mortal, one step ahead of cave people and again acceptable only because they were in uniform. Christy had never had any problem with them, and sat back here whenever the nursing section was full.

The engineers must all have been busy with repairs to the docking bays, however, because there were only a couple of the usual gang back here. She waved at them and found an empty seat.

She didn’t like the crowd she ended up sitting near. They were all male Navy aviators, from a couple of squadrons, which she thought was a little odd because the squadrons usually lived, worked and played together more or less around the clock. None of them said anything directly to her, but as soon as one of them noticed she was an IV, they started telling racist jokes and so forth. They were quiet about it, but her hearing was sharp enough to pick it up, and she was pretty sure they knew that. She finished her meal, dropped off her tray and got out of there.

She decided to go down to the rec room and find something to do, maybe watch a movie or something. It wasn’t until she got out in the corridor that she realized those guys had followed her.

Christy realized she had foolishly taken the corridor that ran behind the laundry. There was a long blank wall on one side, and a string of hatches leading into storage areas on the other side. She picked up her pace a little, there was a lot more traffic in the corridor beyond this one.

A hatch opened and a couple more of those guys came out ahead of her, cutting her off. She realized they must have cut through the laundry.

“Hi, sweetheart.”

“Excuse me,” she said, in the firm but quiet tone she’d learned to use on guys like that as a park ranger. That and the service automatic on her belt had always conveyed that she meant business, even to the most thick-skulled hooligans. But she didn’t have her pistol now. And she counted six of these guys.

“No need to get unfriendly. You know you people want it any time, anywhere. What’s wrong with a little R&R with us?”

The “you people” crack pushed a lot of buttons, but she really wasn’t looking for trouble. “I’m pretty tired, I really wouldn’t be very good company right now.”

“Oh, I think you’d be just fine company.” There was a round of loud laughter and the gang of them crowded in closer.

An older woman stepped through a hatch, carrying a bundle. She did a double-take on the situation and then said, “Let me give you assholes a little hint. The answer to my next question better be ‘Just leaving, ma’am’, or you are going to be in a whole world of trouble. What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”

They took the hint and fled. Christy turned to her rescuer and her eyes widened. It was Crazy Judy...Lt. Commander Judith Ellison, the C.O. of the Saratoga’s recon squadron. She was a legend for being able to get in anywhere and come back with the information the combat pilots needed to do their jobs. She was also good friends with Dr. O’Leary. “Thank you, ma’am!” Christy stammered.

“How did that start?”

“I’m not sure anything *did* start. It didn’t go beyond comments, ma’am.”

“H’mm. And I doubt it would have. They were real close to crossing a line that could have got them put away for life. They probably didn’t intend to do more than scare you.”

“Well, they succeeded. Maybe they thought because I’m an IV...”

“Not on board *this* ship, kid. The Old Man won’t have it. But you shouldn’t have to put up with the comments. I’ll have a little talk with their C.O.’s next time I see them.”

“Ma’am, please, that would just make things worse.”

Judy looked at her and finally nodded. “Yeah, they’d think you tattled to teacher, wouldn’t they? All right, I’ll let it go, but if they so much as look at you cross-eyed, you report them yourself next time. And you’ve got me for a witness.”

“Yes, ma’am!”


McQueen was waiting when the 58th returned from their patrol, there was nothing out of the ordinary about that but it gave him a chance to have a private conversation with Vanessa about the incident in the observation bay the night before. She wasn’t really able to add any more to what she had already told Ross, though.

She sat down on the bench to pull her boots on. “The thing is...I don’t have any control over this stuff. Whenever I deliberately try to do it, I just end up with a jumble of confusing images that give me a headache. I have to just let it come on its own.”

“Vanessa, do you think this person you saw is a threat to you?” McQueen asked.

“Oh, definitely, sir. But I also think so far I’m beneath his notice.”

McQueen’s beeper went off. He checked the extension number, recognized it as Judy Ellison’s and touched the “Received” button. “Be careful with any experiments you might think of trying.”

She looked up at him and he knew he’d hit the nail on the head. Reluctantly she said, “Yes, sir.”

“We’re Marines, ‘Phousse, I didn’t say don’t try it. I said be careful. Make sure you have someone with you.”

“Yes, sir!”

McQueen crossed over to the nearest telephone and punched in Crazy Judy’s extension. She picked up on the second ring. “Ellison here.”

“Judy, it’s T.C. What can I do for you?”

“Where are you?”

“The ready room, why?”

“Can you stop by my office for a few minutes? I need to talk to you.”

“If right now is okay, I can stop on my way to the bridge.”

“Hatch’s open.”

“I’ll be there in five.”

Judy’s office wasn’t far, in a corner of the flight deck near the recon bay. A sign on the hatch warned, “Please Do Not Feed or Harass the Animals.” Below that was another notice, cut from a chemical container, that warned, “Caution: Contents Subject to Explosion if Exposed to Heat or Vibration.” McQueen had to admit, they were appropriate, if hardly regulation. He pushed open the
hatch and walked in.

The office wasn’t much different, a huge stuffed gorilla occupied the office chair in front of the computer terminal. Judy was working on something at her desk, only the top of her head showed over a big cardboard box. The label was from a mail order house. He didn’t presume to ask what was in it...he knew Judy too well for that! She was listening to music over a set of headphones, he could hear the steady percussion from across the room. Outside, most of the time, she had to be Lt. Commander Ellison these days. But in here she was still the same Crazy Judy that she had always been. “Judy. JUDY!”

She yanked off the headphones and grinned, evicted the gorilla from the other chair. “Have a seat, TC, you don’t need to yell.”

Judy was Hawaiian, with ancestors from everywhere. She was likely to refer to herself as a Heinz 57, but McQueen knew she was proud of her multi-racial heritage. It showed in her cafe-au-lait complexion, and her almond-shaped eyes, so light brown they were almost golden. Her hair had once been jet black, but time had added a streak of pure white over her left eye. That added, not years, but an even more exotic note to her appearance.

“What can I do for you?”

She rolled up the paper she’d been working on, and slipped it into a carrying tube. “You know your little S.A.R. nurse? Ames, is it?”


“I convinced a bunch of yahoos they really didn’t want to hassle her in the corridor outside the laundry today.”

McQueen demanded, “Do these yahoos have names?”

“I’m sure they do,” Judy drawled. She’d been onto him for years, she was one of a handful of people on the Toga that he couldn’t stare down...very often. She relented and explained, “The kid doesn’t want that kind of trouble, TC. I don’t think it would have gone beyond name calling or I’d have kicked their butts myself. But I know about that butterfly knife of yours, and I know why you have it. Somebody might better get her one and teach her how to use it, before she gets herself in a situation where she might need it. I’m not always going to be getting my party blouse hemmed every time she runs into trouble.”

“I’ll check it out. Judy, I’m glad you brought this to my attention.”

“No problem. She seems like a nice kid. But green as a damn gourd.”

McQueen had to agree with that assessment. “She is a nice kid. Don’t ask me how in the hell she stayed that way.”

“Some of her genetics must be Irish,” Judy said helpfully. “That’s how Mary O’Leary explains my luck, anyhow.”

“Mary O’Leary would,” McQueen replied.


Hawkes had been assigned to inventory while he was on light duty, and he wasn’t happy about it. He wondered how many pairs of socks you could count before you went permanently insane, and he thought he was probably pretty near the limit. He nearly whooped when the watch ended, and headed for the hatch as soon as he got the chance. Julie asked, “Are we still on for paintball Friday?”

“As far as I know. Do you know anyone else? We’re still looking for one more person to make up a team.”

“Who else is playing?”

“The four of us, you, and Christy and Mark from S.A.R.”

“There’s this LIDAR technician, Ensign Phillips. I’ll ask him if you want me to.”

“Is he any good?”

“Yeah, he pretty much won a game for us the last time I played.”

“Okay, man, we are gonna have the 83rd for breakfast!”

“Who do they have to sub for that boy who got burned?”

“I don’t know yet, I guess the Major will find out Thursday,” Cooper replied.

Julie glanced across the notes on her desk. “Did you know that Colonel McQueen was looking for you?”


“You’re supposed to call him when you get off duty.”

Cooper headed straight over to Tun’s, wondering why McQueen wanted to see him. He was surprised to see Christy already at the table when he stepped into the bar. He got his usual beer and took it over to join them. Christy was saying, “But really, sir, nothing happened. They were just making noise--”

McQueen stopped her protests with a cold blue stare. “Christy, you have no idea what would have happened if Lieutenant Commander Ellison hadn’t come along. Yes, it’s logical to assume that those boys would have seen fit to stand down before things took a turn that would have put them all in the brig. But you don’t *know* that’s what would have happened. Maybe they would have supposed they could arrange things so that no one would ever know what happened.”

She swallowed, taking his meaning. There were a number of accidents that could happen aboard a carrier, things that wouldn’t leave enough remains to raise suspicions of foul play. “Yes, sir.”

Cooper looked back and forth between them. “Did something happen?”

McQueen replied, “Not this time. That may or may not have been thanks to Lt. Com. Ellison’s good timing. Some guys followed Christy out of the cafeteria.”

Cooper’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What guys? Maybe I oughta--”

McQueen didn’t inform them that his own first reaction had been very similar. “Maybe nothing, Cooper, how much worse do you want to make this?”

The two men locked stares. McQueen noted that Cooper didn’t back down immediately any more -- but he thought it through and *then* he backed down.

Christy asked, “Colonel McQueen, I’m not sure I understand what all this is about.”

“You need to learn how to take care of yourself if something like this happens again.”

“There were six of them, sir, if I’d started a fight that would have been about the worst thing that could have happened.”

“Do you trust me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then believe me when I tell you that you have no idea what might have been the worst that could have happened this afternoon. And if I have my way about it, you’ll never have to find out.”

Mark Miller came in, saw Christy and headed over that way, then he realized there was some sort of discussion going on and hesitated to interrupt. Concern won out. “Good afternoon, Colonel.”


“Is something wrong, Chris?”

“NO, Mark, for God’s sake.”

Coop said, “Some guys were hassling her but she won’t say who they were.”

Mark said, “I’ve got a damn good idea who they were.” He took the vacant chair between Cooper and McQueen. “Are you okay, squirt?”

“No. Can’t you tell, they beat the crap out of me and--”

“Whoa. Don’t bite my head off.”

McQueen said, “I think she’s tired of being hassled about it, Mark. Christy, there won’t be any more said about this particular incident. But you are to report to Lt. Hawkes for personal combat training, starting immediately. Is that understood?”

Christy sneaked a glance at Mark, hoping for moral support, but he obviously thought McQueen had a great idea. She couldn’t expect any sympathy from him! She already knew how to fight -- she’d had combat training as a park ranger and then, much more intensively, in basic training. She did not have the nerve to protest, though, given McQueen’s tone of voice. The man’s temper was legendary and she was not about to make herself a target. “Yes, sir, understood.”

Coop said, “I don’t get it, Colonel. You were the one who kicked Danny’s ass, not me. You could teach her better than me.”

McQueen said, “She doesn’t need to know my style, Coop, she needs to learn yours.”

Cooper thought about it, realized McQueen was right again. McQueen concentrated on a hybrid style that owed mostly to Marine Corps combat training and to high-damage martial arts like Shotokan karate. Neither of them wanted Christy to get in a knock down drag out fight with a bunch of punks in a back corridor. She needed to know how to get out of a situation like that, and Cooper knew some very efficient ways to do that. “I see what you mean...but I never tried to teach anybody else before, sir.”

“See how it goes today. We’ll go from there.”

“Yes, sir.”

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