PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 36 of 66 )

: Further Down the Spiral
PART 3 OF 3 : DRAWING THE LINE ( 4 / 4 )

"Hand to hand, and foot to foot:
Nothing there, save death, was mute;
Stroke, and thrust, and flash, and cry,
For quarter or for victory,
Mingle there with the volleying thunder."
-
Byron
 


F-108A Panther 008 [ DDT Eight ]
The Loki System, Downing Quadrant, Vega Sector
FEB 14 2681/2681.045; 1340 Hours (CST)

Check six!"

"Break right!"

"He’s gaining angle on you!"

"Watch that bastard! Watch him!"

"Somebody get him off me!"

"Six o’clock! Six!"

"He’s coming in fast from eleven!"

"Two more coming in from eight low!"

"Keep that fucker off my back just another few seconds -- just another few seconds, please, I’ve nearly got the bastard!"

Shouts. Screams. People talking over the top of each other. Squeals of static, interference from high energy blasts. The confusion didn’t help. Sensory overload. The brain automatically starts to filter things out of it’s own accord. Perhaps the comms chatter -- what did he just say? Did it concern me? Was it important? Or maybe the scanner -- who’s behind me? Or the ship status panel -- where the hell did my shields go? Bye-bye armor.

Even the best pilots, no matter their Academy training and no matter their field experience, eventually reach the breaking point -- sensory overload. They could only process so much information at once, and in a large dogfight such as this, situational awareness was impossible to keep at the level required to stay alive.

No matter how good you are, no matter if you can out-fly and out-shoot anyone or anything, someone will always get behind you because you just didn’t see him coming. If he kills you, you probably won’t even get a chance to do anything. Sometimes, it’s all just down to luck... simple, stupid, plain old luck.

1st Lieutenant Bruno "Nitro" Dias wasn’t so lucky today. The missile was fired from point-blank range and hit him before he even managed to press the "decoy chaff" button. He hauled back on the stick but to no avail. He realized it was hopeless and reached for the yellow and black striped ejection O-ring.

He never made it.

 

F-108A Panther 001 [ DDT Lead ]
1343 Hours (CST)

"Aztecs, give me a status report -- how are we doing? How many turrets left?" Ronin demanded of his squadron, currently flying much-needed SEAD.

"Couple on the second Orca," ’Box told him, "and the Tiamat’s got some blind spots now."

"I’m going for the bridge, then," Nawazaki announced. The Panthers had been modified to carry a couple of light torpedoes in place of some of the anti-radiation missiles.

"No!" Fatboy shouted, then realized he was giving orders to his boss. "Sorry, Boss. Don’t try the bridge, it’s still too well defended; go for the engines instead."

"Roger that," Ronin acknowledged, "thanks for the advice."

"We’ll cover you," agreed ’Box, "And... Bob, you get on my wing. Where’s Lizard?"

"Don’t know," admitted Fatboy.

Probably dead, then, thought ’Box, "Shiva, go with Ronin. Then you two cover us, and we’ll make runs."

"Copy." They had eight light torpedoes between them. Say, 75% accuracy -- six hits. If they could disable the dreadnought’s engineering section there was still a chance, if a slim one. But if the rest of the Forge had suffered a 50% casualty rate, or worse... it didn’t bear thinking about.

So he didn’t. He focused on the task at hand, his torpedo run. There were still some guns protecting the Tiamat’s aft section. Their fire clawed its way out toward him like a giant’s hand, scratching at his face, trying to put out his eyes. It took an effort of will to ignore it. He knew it would miss. If he could see the streams moving, they would miss, passing in front or behind him. The dangerous stuff was the streams that were hard to see because there was no relative movement, just little dots getting bigger and brighter. They had perfect lead and would hit if he didn’t move out of their way. The Nephilim seemed surprisingly poor shots, but nevertheless, he jinked and fired a few shots back. He had little chance of hitting anything and his jinking was as likely to move him into the way of hostile fire as out of it, but it made him feel slightly better.

It only took a few seconds to get a torpedo lock but it seemed like years.

"C’mon, come on, come on!" Finally the targeting brackets came together and an instant later the first torpedo hurtled toward its target with a whoosh. A second trail passed close by his fighter and Ronin knew Shiva had fired as well. He pressed on, and the second torpedo seemed to take even longer to lock. He throttled back, feeling as if he had a bright pink neon "SHOOT ME" sign above his head but eventually he got the lock and fired. He shoved the throttle into full afterburner, using up his last few seconds fuel.

"Running in," he heard Chatterbox inform them as he hurtled away from the dreadnought.

Amazing, thought Nawazaki, the man is sticking to proper comms discipline at a time like this. Then he realized suddenly, and perhaps this epiphany surpassing even the magnitude of his sojourn with Voodoo and that Marine woman on Nephele II -- the stress must be getting to him, too!

A flash. Then another, and three or four smaller ones, closely spaced. Ronin automatically glanced toward the source and saw the last Orca wreathed in the fires of Perdition. More explosions shook it, every second or so.

He watched in morbid fascination as pieces broke off and it disintegrated. More secondary explosions continued. Nothing could have survived that, surely? He hoped not, but it wasn’t the dreadnought. It wasn’t the great monster of the dark, chaotic waters, Tiamat. She had yet to be slain.

"She’s hove-to! Did we get her?"

Maybe not slain, but there was no question (visually, at least) they had struck a heavy blow indeed.

"Think so. She took a few good hits near the engines."

"What now?" Little asked. Ronin wanted to answer, "how the hell should I know" but instead just shrugged.

"Play it by ear, and try to stay alive."

A good a plan as any.

 

Nephilim Tiamat-class Dreadnought; Command Center
1347 Hours (CST)

Amidst the dank, ill-lit environs of the command center, the Alien dreadnought’s Commander watched with a sense of mounting arrogance as the battle continued. The Aliens’ prime target -- the Terran carrier "TCS Valley Forge" -- was nearly obliterated. Things, to say the least, were looking favorable in accordance with the overall plan.

Losses? High Commander T’selisz pondered, Negligible. The Terrans success in disabling their engine core was, while admirable of their opponent, only to be a minor inconvenience.

In their Mother Creature’s honor and tribute, the Terran enemy presence here -- in the Commander’s opinion, deserving more pity than any respect in its current condition -- would be swept aside by the Aligned Peoples in short order just as easily as the rest of their laughable brethren would in the days ahead.

When all Terrans would be laying broken and beaten at their feet, the Aligned Peoples would consolidate their gateway into this ripe new region of space -- either the project in the Terrans’ Kilrah System or Proxima System would suffice, and one would likely divert the Terrans’ attention from the other to guarantee at least one -- and they could carry out their glorious Harvest unopposed.

After all... the Terrans started the conflict, did they not?

By Terran and Kilrathi and whatever other aliens allied or simply in their way alike, the Aligned Peoples would be truly hailed by all conquered on this side of the galaxy as the Kilrathi’s "Star Gods" of lore, for in allowing the continuation of their conquered enemies lives in slavery they would be worshipped as deities... or they would see firsthand how vengeful gods deal with disbelieving subjects.

High Commander T’selisz was informed by one of his brethren what he already knew -- that the Terran carrier intended to ram their Tiamat command flagship. At the same time, fortunately, the Commander was assured the Tiamat’s engines would be back on-line shortly.

 

TCS Valley Forge; Engineering
1349 Hours (CST)

Carrying with him an M-58A1 he’d made sure to take from one of the Marines back in the CIC, a frantic yet focused Captain Vandermann waded his way through the thick Dantesque smoke and bodies into Main Engineering. The blasted, contorted expanse of the chamber only vaguely resembled its former state, though he suspected much of his ship was in a similar state -- he tried not to think about that.

"No time... no time..."

Wiping the sweat from his furrowed brow, he wasted no time setting to work on the sparking, already-open console at the chamber’s far wall. Grabbing at wires and tubing in the adjacent conduit, he managed to reroute the Forge’s power to her auxiliary banks, then transferred control of the helm to engineering.

He continued the Forge’s ramming course to the dreadnought, only to watch as auxiliary power quit right before his eyes. As a last ditch effort, he tried to manually initiate the self-destruct sequence, though he found the on-line computer OS no longer to be anywhere near an operational state.

"Gotta get you back on course for our last dance, baby," Vandermann cooed to his ship, the intensity clear and present in his voice. "C’mon..."

 

397TH SFS AZTECS (DDT WING)

F-108A Panther 007 [ DDT Four ]
1401 Hours (CST)

Amidst the battle continuing to play itself out, the casualties were continuing to rack up. At last word, it had been reported by his XO that the Squadron Commander of the 109th Steel Gunners had been shot down, Lt. Colonel Samuel "Sirdar" Richard... the latest in a surely long list of growing KIAs no one had the stomach to keep track of.

It was not the dogfighting that caught the attention of two of the Aztecs just then, however, but something else. Something larger.

"What the hell is he doing?" 1st Lieutenant Bob "Fatboy" Little’s incredulous voice asked of the Forge’s current course of action.

"I believe the Forge is going to try and ram the dreadnought," Ronin offered input, the only plausible possibility if that was indeed somehow Vandermann at the Forge’s helm. The man had considered doing the same thing. If he had made the decision to not perform the ritual seppuku, perhaps he should instead end his life in defiance of the enemy, perhaps by way of... kamikaze? No, he decided, it would be realistically pointless -- whatever relatives he’d had in the early 20th Century that had performed this against their enemies among the Allies didn’t turn any tides for Japan’s war effort, and this certainly wasn’t World War II. What damage could his tiny F-108 do against the dreadnought?

"It’s not traveling fast enough," Fatboy complained, "and the trajectory is wrong. It’s not going to hit; it’ll end up beside it."

"‘No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy,’" Captain Roger "Chatterbox" Elliot said.

"What?"

"Horatio Nelson," explained ’Box, "back in the days of sail. Wooden ships and broadsides. It doesn’t matter. At least if the Forge goes she’ll do some damage to the dreadnought at that range."

Fatboy fought back the memories of the Hill’s final stand seemed to be threatening him with the thought of reliving them. "She’s traveling too slowly! The dreadnought will just move away!" Fatboy argued.

"No it won’t," Ronin spoke calmly. "It can’t -- we’ve taken out its engines, remember?" 

Slowly, oh so slowly, the Valley Forge edged almost alongside the Nephilim dreadnought. And stopped.

 

Nephilim Tiamat-class Dreadnought; Command Center
1405 Hours (CST)

Even after the consult of the cooler heads amongst the Tiamat’s local Hivemind, the Alien Commander couldn’t help but be puzzled as to the course of action the Terran carrier’s captain was taking; what final maneuver he was forcing his carrier forth to execute.

Moving so slowly... and then coming to a stop so close to the dreadnought. What did it mean?

Reminding him whatever the final futile effort was meant nothing, over the Hivemind High Commander T’selisz was informed that the Tiamat’s engines were now back on-line and another "Capship Missile"/CSM was energized and more than ready ready to finish off the Terran carrier.

Pleased to put his worries at satisfactory ease, the Commander prepared to give the order all amongst the local Hivemind waited in anxious anticipation for.

 

TCS Valley Forge; Engineering
1407 Hours (CST)

Decades ago while still in the Free Republic of Landreich Navy before falling under the wing of the man named Tolwyn, Captain Eldon Vandermann had made it a daily point to live by the motto, "To hell with your orders and do what your heart says." He had learned that was all and good in certain situations, but sometimes orders were orders and to hell with your heart... orders no longer had any meaning for him in this last stand he was taking, but doing what his heart said was something he was finally going to do for the first time in a lifetime.

"Blood on your hands, boy... blood... and now another failure! No going back for you, Eldon, certainly not now and certainly not ever!"

That wasn’t Vandermann’s heart talking, that was the voice of his long-deceased father again. Speaking to him and hounding him at his worst possible hour, the despicable man taunted him even now.

"Always knew it would end like this with you, Eldon... just like this -- failure and death!"

"You... Father..." Vandermann seethed at the specter. It was at that exact moment that Captain Vandermann had an epiphany. Behind the sweat, grease, fatigue, and his nerve-wracked state of mind, with a burning, almost vindictive sense of right and the knowledge of what had to be done, he somehow managed to finally work up the courage to tell his deceased father, "Fuck off!"

For the the very first time in his life, after all of his failures, shortcomings, horrors he had partaken in, and even a drug addiction he was far from proud of that he had come to depend on as a crutch in recent years, Eldon Vandermann was free.

Stepping away from his work on the conduit below, he raised his M-58 determinedly. Unflinchingly, Vandermann pumped out two 35mm grenades from his rifle’s five-round underslung secondary launcher, doing so directly into the Hydrogen-Deuterium-Tritium Fusion core of the Valley Forge that he was facing.

He didn’t even blink. The line had been held long enough. For Captain Vandermann, the time had come to finally draw it.

Vandermann’s last thought was -- fittingly, he felt -- of the Tenth Codex in the maxims of Xag he had always held so close to his heart in the past years: "Even in death, there can be victory!"

 

Nephilim Tiamat-class Dreadnought; Command Center
1409 Hours (CST)

The Alien Commander’s insectoid face contorted in what could only be the "Nephilim" equivalent to a smile. The eve of victory, the Terran enemy before them beaten and reduced to putty within the righteous hand of the Aligned Peoples... a hand he was now going to close tightly into a clenched fist.

Turning to his chittering subordinates below the command dais, High Commander T’selisz savored every word he spoke throughout both the Hivemind itself and out loud, "Fi -- "

 

TCS Shrak’har; Flag Bridge
1410 Hours (CST)

With the hellish firefight raging outside against the bleak, desolate background of the Etruria Flank’s region of deep space, the flag bridge of the Fralthi II-class cruiser TCS Shrak’har (the former KIS Shrak’har ras Kt’ann) was calm, unpleasantly such. Dead calm.

Kalahn Catharx nar Vukar Tag dai Nokhtak, proconsul to Clan Vukar Tag and the Shrakhar’s commanding officer, stood in the center of the bridge a few feet from his command chair, his furred brow heavy with sweat that continued to flow as the battle outside raged toward some type of bloody conclusion -- "Omega Strike," the Terrans rather aptly had designated it earlier in the day. Fighters swarmed around the two battle groups, explosions crisscrossing the void as the allied fighters tried to suppress Nephilim attempts to thwart or otherwise destroy the attack on their dreadnought flagship. The TCS Valley Forge, lucky to have still any fighting spirit left in it, was on a one-way collision course with the massive ship, apparently in a suicidal attempt to destroy the Alien menace it faced here in Loki on behalf of the Combined Fleet’s efforts and mission. 

"A human act of kabaka... can it be?" Catharx pondered aloud.

It looked so surreal -- the Forge cutting directly through the void separating it from the nemesis it was locked in battle with. Energy weapons crisscrossed the blackness, casting a beautiful picture that was in reality a duel to the death. Catharx found himself reminded of the FRLS Mjollnir’s battle with Ukar dai Ragark lak Haka’s massive Vorghath dreadnought, a glorious conflict that Vandermann and himself had shared together years ago.

"Kal Shintahr, we are detecting massive energy signit -- " before the young kil could finish, blue-white light washed out every viewport on the bridge. It only lasted half a second before the UV visual filters kicked in and reduced the amount of light passing through them to close-to-normal, sustainable levels to the Kilrathi eye. The Forge, with its furthest-aft sections completely vaporized, careened now even faster towards the Tiamat. The bow of the once-proud Terran carrier impacted about a fourth of the way from the front of the Tiamat, right between the Alien capship’s spider-esque "appendages." The still-expanding anti-matter explosion started to tear through the rest of the ship and, as the two mighty warships made contact, washed over them both completely. Within an octodek of a split second the Tiamat’s weapon banks and engine core erupted with what was left of the Forge’s own spent equivalent, combining to form the most massive, incandescent fireball imaginable to Catharx just short of Kilrah’s blazing destruction, destroying and and all unlucky or stupid fighters that happened to be too close. This second flash, even brighter than the first, overloaded the visual filters on the bridge and all the viewports went black, completely shutting out all light coming into the bridge. Once the flash and its ensuing shockwave had washed over the Shrak’har the viewports again allowed light to pass through and the dismal aftermath of two once-mighty ships occupied the entire available view. 

The Forge and the Tiamat-class dreadnought, apart from their blackened, skeletal hulks that joined and merged with one another other in death, were now only expanding clouds of debris and shrapnel with nothing larger than fighter-sized pieces of debris spinning away from the epicenter of that horrendous explosion’s blast radius. 

Totally taken aback by the events unfolding before his and his Cadre hrai’s eyes, Catharx reached for his ceremonial vorshooka blade, drew it from its sheath at his hip, and slowly brought it across his sweat-strewn brow. With his paw-like hand Catharx gently pulled it across, drawing his blood for in mourning for Vandermann. He appropriately thought aloud to the Tenth Codex of Xag, "Even in death, my old friend -- my takhar -- there can be victory... and so there is." Because of Vandermann’s sacrifice the allied forces of CVBG-A had won the battle and a much-deserved reprieve, even if at such a terrible, insurmountable cost. A wave of emotion washed over the eldest kil on the bridge as the warm, sticky blood runs down his face. Regaining his composure, Catharx looked to his XO, Shintahr Jak’ra nar Sho’lar, for an update on the events that had unraveled to closure outside the ship.

"Damage?" he barked the question, moving to sit in his command chair.

"Shields took the brunt of the energy discharge, my lord. Structural damage is minimal."

"Alert the hangar crew that they must be ready to receive any and all returning fighters necessary from the Forge’s flight wing."

"Yes, my lord."

Watching as his orders were carried out by the Cadre, Catharx disgustedly hurled his kaschee scarf across the bridge before permitting himself to rest his burdened weight back in his command chair. Thinking to himself, he dedicated himself now to pushing this conflict to a close as filling the CVBG-A CO’s position until further word/orders from Rear Admiral Hanton, a decision made in memory and tribute to the closest takhar he had ever known, the zaga-endowed Terran known as Captain Eldon Vandermann.

 

397TH SFS AZTECS (DDT WING)

F-108A Panther 008 [ DDT Eight ]
1340 Hours (CST)

"Oh, God no..." 1st Lieutenant Bob "Fatboy" Little cried over the squadron command channel. Beneath his flight helmet, tears streaked down the Aztec pilot’s blank face.

"Lord... not again... not this..."

The two pilots formerly of the late TCS Bunker Hill, Fatboy and Captain Roger "Chatterbox" Elliot both, remembered all too well the shockingly similar fate of their last carrier. If they were to think too far into it, and both men were straining in trying their hardest not to, they might look at it as going beyond mere bad luck... they were damned by some kind of curse incurred for God knew what reason, their curse rubbing off on their latest posting.

"Latest posting"... yet it had been so much more to the two Hill survivors -- it had represented a second chance; a new beginning, fresh start, and clean slate with a new carrier and squadron to hang their hat on and call their own.

The last of the Nephilim’s stray fighters had already been picked off. Their morale decimated to practically nothing now, the 71st FW’s flyers could be seen on various landing approaches, all hoping to squeeze their fighters on the existing capships of Carrier Battle Group Auriga. As Fatboy and Chatterbox proceeded under Ronin’s orders to begin landing approach of the TCS Shrak’har, plain to be seen CVBG-A’s capships were already moving onward and in formation... all of them, the battered Nagato, Ohlander, Condor, and Shrak’har pressing forth on a joint vector that would take the flagshipless battle group to the Loki-Nifelheim jump point... where the ongoing battle -- the ongoing bloodbath -- would begin anew and continue unabated, only a jump away.

The After Action Reports for the WC -- if she had survived -- would be unimaginably painful for any amongst them that still had a heart, truly not unlike rubbing salt on an open wound.

If CVBG-A had traveled further down the spiral on this black day, one could only hate any notion of looking forward to greeting whatever was waiting for them at the bottom.

No rest for the wicked, it seemed clear... only the dead.

 

A century later...

Planet Earth; Colombo, Sri Lanka
"The Lakes" Retirement Community
The Sol System, Terra Quadrant, Sol Sector
MAY 9 2749/2749.129; 2345 Hours (CST)

Michele Chen finished her long-winded (yet still far from cliché) "thank you for your time" note and left it resting atop the armrest of the elderly Jediah Wright’s comforter with her elaborate (i.e. expensive) Tri-D business card that had her phone number(s), both work and home addresses, and even E-mail address to boot. Written in sloppy holopen handwriting she felt ashamed for putting to the card was something of an afterword or crude post-script, an afterword/P.S. she regretted not adding to the original note to begin with: "If you ever want to talk, please know I’ll always be there for you. Count on it, old timer. :) - Best Wishes & Love, Michele."

Leaning over the snoring man that had been her gracious host for the past number of hours, the twenty-something journalist planted a small, innocent enough kiss on his cheek, smiled, then started out of the room with the intention of showing her own way out.

To her complete, absolute, and undivided attention the man -- the war hero, the "HTL" Campaign veteran -- had finished his story. After nervous fits of coughing and plenty of tears, Vice-Admiral (Ret.) Jediah Wright gave his journalist guest the first-hand story she sought, and had only minutes ago nodded off into a comfortable slumber. A perfect gentleman the whole way through, to be certain.

So this man, this war hero of a century ago honored in Terran Confederation history with the medals to prove it was wholly content to live his last days as a lonely old man, living as a recluse out in the middle of nowhere on his home planet and going to all the trouble of finding a home where he could live undisturbed -- so what? Locked in his mind, his memories, must have been something still-present and an issue to him nearly seventy years after it happened enough that it kept him as such... perhaps him just wanting an ear was true, and this was his final gesture of exorcising the demons that tormented his soul to the present day.

If Jed had looked an angry, bitter old man upset at the world when he’d first opened the door for Ms. Chen (and, to her, he did), after telling her his story and lying asleep in his living room, Jed finally looked so very much at peace. She hoped she’d helped him as much as he helped her, if not more so.

A proud, almost cocksure expression shamelessly displayed on her face, Ms. Chen let herself out the front door. First removing the band that kept her hair in a tight ponytail, she shook her long hair down while at the same time taking a deep breath of the fresh, Earthy air. Suddenly, its impact on her coinciding as the same instant she pulled and lit the cigarette she had been craving for the long respectful "No Smoking" hours spent inside Mr. Wright’s house, as if it had just dawned on the woman for the first time in her young life that... hey, her life was really not all that bad. All things considered, she might even go as far as to say that she had it pretty good.

Knowing this ("knowing is half the battle" mentality in mind, of course) all she could do was hope and pray she was strong enough to not let her admittedly wealthy, growing celebrity-status (and this being before she would get Mr. Wright’s story in holo-print) throughout the masses get to her head in the days and years to come as it seemed to do so inevitably to so many others in similar positions as hers. At the same time, however, Ms. Chen was well aware that unless she hoped to incur the unholy wrath of her editor-in-chief she had better be en route to the nearest aircar taxi with all due haste -- Jed may have been able to "Hold The Line" in his day for King, Country, and the glory of the Space Navy, but Ms. Chen had found little luck in ever holding deadlines for King, Country, and the glory of Galactic Entertainment Today.

"Tomorrow’s headline..." Ms. Chen smiled as she spoke, half-sarcasm, half-enthusiasm, but all jest, "... Unsung Holding The Line TCSN veteran comes out of hiding, tells one woman of TCS Valley Forge’s historic final hours... an exclusive special edition of Galactic Entertainment Today... subtitles available in Firekkan, Wu, Varni, Dolosian, and Kilrathi on request in most dialects... check your local holo-newsstand to be sure," she finished the mock-TV pitch in a surprisingly pretty close to her best impression of TCN superstar Barbara Miles. When no laugh came, the woman’s bittersweet smile soon waned and not long after that just dropped altogether. She gradually came to the realization that for the first time in her career -- any conceit and ego aside, it was truly a promising one, make no doubt -- she could take no pride in "nabbing the story" once again... no, this was a man’s life she was going to make headlines with, and Jed Wright’s life was far from a fairytale. Few men commanded her respect as Jed had in such short amount of time in her entire life, not simply for what he’d been through but perhaps the man within, the old-fashioned man of the yesteryear that was worth giving a girl’s heart to and entrusting with... truth be told, if Jed were even forty years younger she would more than likely consider going out with him and seeing where things led... one night stand or long-term, she figured it would be worth the effort.

Shaking that odd notion out of her mind, Ms. Chen found herself recalling her earlier-on query in the middle of his story that touched on his relationship with the then-Lieutenant JG Amy St. Germain, or rather, his unexpected response to it. "Amy? Amy St. Germain?" he nearly choked out. "Don’t let that damn French name fool you, that woman wasn’t no saint, let me tell you that right away. After the smoke of HTL cleared we weaseled our way onto the same carrier assignment -- ConFleet High Command, the Admiralty Court with’em pretty much granted any reasonable request we or any of the other survivors wanted after the Forge -- I proposed to Amy, we said ‘hell with it’ and ‘hell with everyone’ like most couples with any balls at all do, got married on a one day shore leave venture to Enigma Prime with the clock ticking down to RTB the whole time. Wedded bliss for, oh, about one-point-five kids and three years later... you do the math." Ms. Chen remembered Mr. Wright’s roguish, almost contented smile that moment quite well, a smile that were she to describe she’d call the smile of a man content with the experience, adventure, and chance of life itself. "These kids of mine, you might ask? Shafted into Amy’s uncle’s care until our tours of duty were up and we could settle down -- it was that or one of our parents’ custody, and we both agreed on her uncle for the children’s sake. Saw them when they were born, then never seen or even heard their voice since... probably got great-grandchildren by now, you figure? I didn’t even know them, and years after the divorce -- I stayed in the Fleet afterward, naturally... it being all I had that could keep my mind off Amy at the time -- when I finally left the service I didn’t even feel I had any right to fight for custody. Hey, you go figure with this one, Ms. Chen, because I’m not entirely sure I get it myself: that irredeemable nymph I loved so dearly threw that wedding ring back in my face, drew up the divorce papers, packed her shit, requested another transfer and naturally got it; this nymph, the only thing she left me to even remember her by was the nasty DSHS child support deductions out of my ConFleet monthly payroll -- the leech of a woman that was all these things and did all this... you know, Ms. Chen, even while maybe should have thought about getting a pre-nup of some form if I could do it all over again, I still honest-to-God don’t regret having what I had with her, what we shared, or for the time we did. Not for a second or a single heartbeat -- and you know what? I still love that vixen to this day, if she’s still alive... she still has my heart." He’d probably not bothered or even wanted to check up on her ConFleet record... she if she was still alive, remarried, or whatnot, probably preserving her memory the way it had been left in his mind. Ms. Chen’s background work on Jed, while for the most part revealing only dead-ends, hollow records, blank faces, and change-of-addresses, did tell her about Amy St. Germain’s fate, a fate she thought it better to keep to herself if only out of respect for Jed’s wishes -- Captain (Ret.) Amy Reneé St. Germain, the former one-time Mrs. St. Germain-Wright, remarried a questionable grand total of six times after Jed ending with a total of eight kids to her name by nearly as many fathers. When she’d hit middle age after the last marriage ended she became afflicted with, as one Major Julian Ickes, M.D. summed it up in plain English, "inherent, actively pursuant suicidal tendencies," tendencies that put her in the mental institution she remained in to the present day. No, Ms. Chen reaffirmed to herself, she’d do well to just keep this bit to herself and let Jed keep his rather Great Gatsby-esque memoir alive for whatever it was worth. "Amy..." Jed went on, "she was as good a memory as I could ever hope for that ended suddenly in a not-so-good way... and I more or less expected it would from the beginning -- her being who she was, me being who I am... but at least there was plenty of good, passion, and life abound the whole way through. Few things good last forever -- Amy and I together was time well spent, and a memory I’ll always cherish of a woman I’ll always love. I have precious few of those, none even close, it saddens me to say. But really, my dear young lady... such is life, wouldn’t you agree?"

Sparing one last look back at the lonesome house behind her, a single, unremarkable house lost amongst the Sri Lankan cityscape, Ms. Chen drew and flipped open her pocket FLASH-X cell phone (entirely company paid-for, naturally -- only the best for their best rising star journalist). She felt ready enough to return to the present, prepared to return to the present. Bygones to be left bygones and this new multi-faceted side story; this new perspective she’d been privy to by dumb luck and having the sole honor of hearing of an entire veritable missing chapter in the shrouded militant histories of the Confederation’s Armed Forces... she’d see to it herself that it be heard, entrusted, and left secured in archive undisturbed for the centuries to come for the Terran Confederation in the only place it could be protected. Protected, yes, in a place Ms. Chen would see it locked away in that would assure her that even when the public interest in her very-forthcoming article in G.E.T. would die out once it inevitably became the trite stuff of yesterday’s news; the very same place Jediah’s tale of hardship, sacrifice, and unsung heroics had been unjustly absent from in classrooms and libraries for painfully well over half a century: the history books.

 

FIN