Episode 203: Reunion
by Bob Bitchin'
"I love you Johnny Rico..." Dizzy held his hand while he lay in the hospital bed. Johnny opened his right eye.
"Say it again Diz - I like the way that sounds..." Dizzy looked down at Johnny and saw his crooked grin. She laid her hand on his chest and leaned down over him.
"I love you, ya' big jerk!" With that she kissed him on the forehead. "I'll love you till the end of time you big show off..." With that Dizzy kissed him on the lips. After the kiss Dizzy stood up straight again. Johnny opened both of his eyes and took Dizzy's hand into his. The grin disappeared from his face and a mask of seriousness came over him.
"Dizzy, I know what you said before but I'm going to ask again anyway - Will you marry me?" If Johnny could have held his heart in his hand then he would have been at that moment. Dizzy looked down at him lying in the hospital bed and smiled. She smiled so warmly that the heat traveled up her face and soon her eyes where watering.
"Yes... Yes Johnny Rico, I'll marry you..." Johnny reached up and whipped her tears away. Dizzy sniffled - still smiling - and took Johnny's hand as he was whipping her tears. "The war is over Johnny - you killed her - now I have nothing left to fear..."
The Wedding March started to play and the guests all stood up. Johnny looked down the isle, the church was crowded and he could barely see the doors that Dizzy would enter through. The doors opened and it was as if a light filled the church, Dizzy in her white dress was more beautiful than Johnny could have ever imagined, he couldn't help but gape at her like some slack jawed fool. It was only when he noticed the same expression on every other mans' face that he felt less a fool and more like the luckiest man on Earth.
Dizzy seemed to float down the isle to the altar and when she arrived at the altar she held her hand out to Johnny. He swallowed once and then smiled; looking into Dizzy's eyes he smiled so wide he thought his face would crack. But he couldn't help it, this was the happiest moment of his life and he couldn't contain himself. Dizzy smiled back at him and fireworks started to go off in Johnny's mind. He took her hand and turned to face the preacher and the rest of the ceremony passed in a haze. Johnny said all the right words at all the right times and soon he heard the preacher say, "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride." Johnny put his arms around Dizzy and looked down into her eyes, Dizzy wrapped her arms around Johnny's waist and looked up into his eyes. As their lips met the church bells started to ring and the crowd in the church cheered. For Johnny, the kiss was near magical, for the first time in his life he knew without a shadow of doubt that he had done something right. Feelings of love, joy, and pride filled Johnny to over flowing. As their kiss ended Dizzy whispered, "I love you Johnny Rico." Johnny held on to her and whispered in her ear.
"I'll love you till the end of time Dizzy..."
SEVEN YEARS LATER:
"...but Diz..." Johnny's shoulders slumped, defeated. He let out the rest of his breathe in a sigh, his powersuit was extra heavy today. Dizzy, looking at him through a vid-screen, clinched her fists at her sides. Anger showed on Dizzy's face like storm clouds, the longer neither of them spoke the more thunder that built in those clouds. When she finally spoke her words dripped acid.
"Johnny, I've waited almost two years for you to sign that damn paper. I'm not changing my mind! As a matter of fact, if I hear from you before I die than THAT will be too soon! Just sign the divorce papers and you'll never hear from me again!"
THREE YEARS LATER:
"I'm not home right now, please leave a message..." Dizzy's voice was monotone.
"Dizzy? It's Johnny... Look, I know you don't want to talk to me, but I think Carl is in trouble and he asked for our help... The Roughnecks help... Diz, please pick up." Rico didn't know what to say next. The vid-screen flickered.
Max crumpled up his transfer orders and threw them across his room. He then spun around and punched the door. "I can't believe this! TRANSFERED! Back under the command of Major Rico! I'm gonna kill somebody!" The vid-screen to the right side of Max beeped a few times and flashed to life, showing the trooper in the communications bunker.
"Sergeant Brutto? There's a priority one call for you from Tophet. Are you ready to receive this incoming transmission?" With his ear piece and boom mike the private looked like a receptionist more than he looked like a trooper.
"Yes private, put the transmission through..." Max tried to school his facial features but he had never been very good at that. The vid-screen shifted images and Max was looking at his father's smiling face. "Hey dad, what's up?"
"Well it looks like in a few weeks I'll get to shake your hand again, Sergeant." Francis Brutto smiled from his sealed apartment on Tophet. Max could see a part of his father's apartment, pictures of his mother and himself on a shelf in the background.
"What are you talking about Dad?" Max was too upset to make the mental connections fast enough; he had made no connection between the transfer orders he just received and his father's call.
"Did you get the Transfer Orders Max?" Brutto sounded worried, his smile disappeared and was replaced by a look of worry.
"Are you in on THAT Dad?!" The anger showed plain on Max's face. At first Francis Brutto was surprised, then he too showed some anger.
"I pulled just about every string I have to get you on this mission and I'm not going to hear any bellyaching because you're losing your cushy position at Camp Curry? This is too important... and I want you by my side on this one..." Brutto's features softened with his last statement. Lights started to go on in Max's mind and slowly he began to understand the situation at hand.
"Do I have to wait until I see you to get the full story Dad?" Max's posture had changed form challenging to acceptance.
"I think that would be best Max. I'll see you soon." The vid-screen went dark. Max touched the vid-screen.
"I love you Dad..."
The Fleet ensign stood at the end of the dock holding a briefcase. The smell of the ocean, of fish and brine, was strong in the air. So much so that the ensign wrinkled his nose as he looked at the boat at the end of the dock. A shrimp boat, the S.S. Peeled Banana, sat at the end of the dock and the boat's crew was busy attaching it to the mourings at the end of the dock. Sea Gulls circled in the air aft of the boat, driving in occasionally to snatch a stray shrimp off of the deck. The booms that held the shrimp nets where up and gave the boat the appearance that it had wings of its own. When the boat was secure in its mouring the ensign approached.
"Excuse me sailor, I'm looking for a Jeff Gossard." The ensign stepped up to the edge of the dock, looking over the gunnel onto the deck, the smell coming out of the hold made the ensign wrinkle his nose again. The sailor looked the ensign up and down and then turned and yelled down into the hold.
"Hey Skipper! - Someone is here to see you!" With that the sailor went back to attaching cables to the nets, preparing to unload the hold.
Boots thumped on the ladder heading up from the hold and a square shouldered man appeared soon after. The smell of fish and brine hung around him like a fog. The ensign coughed although it sounded more like a gag.
"Are you Jeff Gossard?" The ensign sounded almost surprised with his question, he tried to cover himself by looking down and starting to fiddle with the latches on his briefcase.
"Yeah, I'm Gossard. What can I do for you?" He looked the ensign over and scratched his chin, now covered with a beard - this was not his usual SICON contact and Gossard was puzzled. The ensign opened the briefcase, pulled out a clipboard computer and a thick manilla envelope. Gossard rubbed his palms on his pants to clean them of grease and shrimp parts. There was still a thick layer of grease and dirt under his fingernails.
"Mr. Gossard, these are your reactivation orders." The ensign handed Gossard the manilla envelope, the way the ensign handed the envelope to Gossard it was obvious that he did not want to touch him.
"What are you talking about ensign?" Gossard took the envelope and opened it by pulling on the security seal.
"I have been instructed to deliver your orders and this clip board computer and to inform you that you need to report by tomorrow at 0 900." With that the ensign closed his briefcase, turned around and left the dock. Gossard looked down at the computer screen on the clipboard, a message was flashing on the screen - Enter SICON ID to play recorded message - Gossard entered his ID number and the screen came to life with an image of Johnny Rico's face. Goss watched the recorded message and shook his head.
"I should've known..."
"Dr. La Croix, you have an incoming call on line 3. Dr. La Croix, you have an incoming call on line 3." The overhead page was heard throughout the hospital.
Doc flushed and then exited the stall. "Jees, not a moments peace..." Doc walked over to the sink, washed his hands and then walked over to the vid-screen on the wall near the door to the lavatory. He pressed the operator key and a friendly face appeared on the view screen. "Pat, can you route that incoming call to his terminal?" Doc tried to make his voice pleasent.
"Sure thing Dr. La Croix. This one is coming in from off-world, looks like someone in SICON wants to wish you a happy retirement." Doc rolled his eyes at Pat's comment. "By the way, some nurses have already started planning your retirement roast for next month, sure hope you're ready for it."
"Thanks for the heads up Pat. Now how about that incoming call...?" Doc smiled as the operator switched the line. As the call came through there was a text message on the screen that preempted the transmission. It read: This is a recorded message that cannot be saved - view contents and then comply as ordered. Doc scratched his chin and pressed the Play key. The next face to appear on the vid-screen was Johnny Rico's.
"Doc! Good to see you! Well, it will be good to see you..." Doc continued to listen to Rico's recorded message until it was over. Any thoughts of having a good day left Doc's mind as he left the bathroom.
"I was going to retire next month..." Doc pushed the bathroom door open and headed into the hallway.
"Five minutes until we're on the air. Everyone finish your tasks and clear the set." The make-up artist that was working on Higgins' face started to work faster. Robert closed his eyes to allow his make-up to be applied. When he opened them he saw his agent in the mirror, standing right next to him with a clipboard computer in his hands. There was a worried look on his face. Higgins made eye contact with him.
"What's up Jerry?" Without a word the make-up artist took a few steps away from the pair, out of earshot.
"Bob, I've been trying to put this call off until the end of the broadcast but a certain Major in SICON says he needs to speak with you 'Right Now!' Do you want to take the call?" He handed Higgins the clipboard terminal.
"A certain Major?... Yeah, Jerry... I'll take the call. Could you give me just a moment please?" Higgins glanced over at his make-up artist and Jerry headed in her direction. Higgins put the terminal in his lap and pressed the On Hold button, Johnny Rico's face appeared on the vid screen.
"Johnny! Hey man, it's great to see you!" Higgins was smiling from ear to ear.
From the bridge of the Thomas Davis, Rico marveled at how small the Moon really was. For some reason the fleet troopers on the Thomas Davis had nicknamed the ship 'Smoke'. Rico didn't know the reason but he felt the name was well given. This ship was the first to be equipped with new, top secret, stealth technologies; making the ship near invisible to all know sensing equipment, clouding sensors like smoke in your eyes.
Johnny looked down at what was considered the 'North Pole' of the moon as the Thomas Davis passed over it. Like fog rolling over a hill, from the ocean, the Thomas Davis approached earth by coming over the 'top' of the Moon. Carmen stepped up beside Johnny as he stood gazing at the Moon.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Carmen thought that was the best way to break the silence. Since the ship had come out of hyper drive Johnny had been on edge. Carman could understand and she was trying to give Johnny as much room as she could.
"I was just thinking about how small it looks. But yeah, I guess it is beautiful too." Johnny looked over at Carmen and smiled, but the smile didn't carry over into his eyes.
"Well we just got the confirmations. Three different ships will bring everyone." Johnny's eyebrows shot up at the word 'everyone'. "Yes that means everyone Rico. The first ship should dock in less than an hour; the last will be here in three hours. And you can take a wild guess at who is in the third ship..." Carmen was trying to be funny.
"Well last is better than not at all... I just hope that I can pull this off."
"Pull what off?" Carmen leaned down on the rail.
"Well, the reunion I guess..."
"...no, that's how I met my third wife. You know those rag sheets never get anything right." Higgins' laugh echoed the laughs of Doc and Gossard. The three old friends where they only passengers on the first retrieval ship bound for the Thomas Davis. As the laughter of the three died down, Higgins' changed the subject. "Do you guys know that in a few short hours the Roughnecks will be reunited? I mean aren't you excited? I can't remember the last time we where all together..." Higgins was trying to build enthusiasm but it wasn't working for some reason.
"That was a long time ago Paperboy." Doc's voice had not grown any softer with age, but his gruff attitude did not deter Higgins. He was still beaming with excitement.
"I can remember the last time we where all together..." Gossard's somber voice matched his attitude. "It was at The Wedding..."
Doc and Higgins both look at Gossard and say in the same somber tone "... The Wedding..."
"What was your favorite part of the wedding?" As Higgins asked the question he reached into his pocket and hit the RECORD button on a tiny voice recorder. Neither Doc nor Gossard noticed Higgins' subtle movements. Doc was the first to answer.
"I think my favorite part was the cake. That had to be the best piece of cake I have ever eaten. I've never had a better piece of cake before or since." By his tone, Doc was totally serious. Gossard chuckled.
"My favorite part had to be the look on Dizzy's face when I spanked by butt with the flat of my sword, oh that was priceless!" The memory had put a far off look in Gossard's eyes.
"I remember that, she was PISSED! I could never figure out why..." Higgins was fishing for material, Gossard bit the hook.
"The spank on the butt is suppose to welcome a trooper's wife to the MI as a de facto member, kind of welcoming them into the fold. Dizzy was already a Trooper and didn't want to get spanked. She found out I was at the end of the honor guard and on her side of the isle so she came to me before the ceremony and made me promise not to spank her with my saber." Gossard let out an evil little chuckle.
"She made you promise not to spank her? And you did it ANYWAY?!" Doc was in disbelief for more than one reason.
"Hey, I was in that position on the honor guard ON PURPOSE. There was no way I was going to miss my chance to spank her on her wedding day." Higgins and Doc could almost see the devil horns grow out of Gossard's forehead. The mirth did not last long though, as Gossard let himself explore the memories of that day his mood darkened once again. "I didn't think there was anything that could pull those two apart..."
"I haven't seen you since The Wedding, how have you been Wash Out?" Zim smiled as he saw the features on Max Brutto's face darken. The roar of engines brought on a sinking feeling in their stomachs as the retrieval ship rocketed up into the sky. Once the ship leveled out a little, Max decided to retort.
"I've been at Camp Curry doing the job that you got too old for..." Max smiled at his own wit, he felt he was seasoned enough now that he could return Zim's disrespect.
"You mean to tell me they still have you cleaning out the latrine? I haven't done that since I was a private..." Zim was starting to feel quilty about continuing a battle of wits with what he saw as an unarmed opponent. Max's face was a mask of fury. Max pushed up his harness and stood up.
"Look Zim, I've been a DI at Curry for just over five years. I was transffered on to this operation by my dad, and he didn't ask me if I wanted to come, so why don't you shut your mouth before I have to shut it for you... Old Man." Max growled the last two words.
"Boy, since your first day of Boot I knew you didn't have the mustard. I don't see that anything has changed. Why don't you sit down? You will if you know what's good for you..." Zim locked 'Hundred Yard Stares' with Max. Like dogs, the two troopers challenged each other using their eyes. As the ship leveled out more, Zim pressed the release on his harness. As the harness rose so did Zim, slowly to his feet.
Max saw this as a challenge and charged Zim. Two steps into Max's charge the ship rocked from turbulence and Max missed a step. That was all Zim needed, precise movements brought his knee driving into Max's abdomen. Max pitched forward and Zim helped him along with a solid push. Max stumbled and smacked face first into the bench where Zim had been sitting. Max groaned and slumped to the floor.
"Just feel lucky that I decided not to break your arm again." Zim walked over to the communications console.
16 MONTHS AFTER THEIR WEDDING:
The SICON band was playing, as troopers with duffle bags over their shoulders waved good-bye to loved ones and walked up the loading ramp of the huge transport ship. Dizzy wore her little yellow sundress, it was Johnny's favorite. Rico had not headed up the loading ramp yet, he was too busy double checking manifests and cargo lists to make sure everything - and everyone - he requested was accounted for.
The Valley Forge and three other ships where headed back out into space to fight the bugs once again. Since the Queen's death, SICON had never really stopped fighting the bugs. But they had not launched a full scale offensive. This was to be the first offensive since the Queen's death, Rico had been reactivated as an officer and he wanted to make sure his squad was going to be well equipped for this campaign.
Dizzy stood off to the side, out of the way. She had not yet told Johnny the truth of why she had not been reactivated. She found out she would not be put on active duty the same day Johnny found out he was. The news of his reactivation had made him very happy. He had been growing bored with life after The Bug War - this new 'tenting' operation was just what he needed. Dizzy did not want to upset him with her news, now she had waited too long and he was getting ready to leave.
"OKAY! THAT'S IT! TAKE IT AWAY!" Rico was yelling to the crewmen to load his last pallet of equipment. Once the forklift picked up the pallet and turned towards the cargo bay Rico looked around for Dizzy. He saw her and made eye contact, smiling. Dizzy smiled back but her body posture was all wrong. Johnny knew she was upset - he could tell just by looking at her. He walked over to her and put his arms around her. "Don't worry honey, I'll be careful. My squad is the highest ranked in the division, we'll be okay." Dizzy smiled up at him but couldn't hold back any longer and tears begin to well up in her eyes.
"Johnny, you had better come back in one piece - you hear me. I won't be there to watch your back this time and you need to come home from this... for BOTH of us..." Dizzy looked down and whiped her eyes.
"The BOTH of us? You mean... your - "
"Pregnant. Yes Johnny. The reason I wasn't reactivated is because I am pregnant. My name has been removed from the duty roster, I can never be called on now, I'm a breeding mother AND a citizen - " Dizzy's voice cracked as more tears welled in her eyes. "So you make sure that you come back to us - " With that Dizzy began sobbing and hid her face in Johnny's chest. Rico held her tight and looked out across the gathered crowd, so many different emotions where running through him at once, he was having a hard time making sense of everything.
"I... I don't know what to say Dizzy... you... we, are pregnant! I couldn't be happier." That made Dizzy sobs even harder. "I mean, now I don't want to go, but it's too late - I have to go, my squad is counting on me and I'm the Lieutenant - I can't back out now... you'll be okay. I'll get a hold of Doc and he can take care of you during the pregnancy. This 'tenting' is going to be a smooth operation, in and out, quick. We'll be back before you know it. We still have to pick out names for the baby... " Johnny continued to ramble until Dizzy stopped crying and was able to get herself back together, he was the last person to board the transport.
NINE MONTHS LATER:
"Thanks for calling. I'm not here right now so please leave a message." There was no image for the vid-message auto response - Carl frowned. When the red light in the corner of the screen flashed 'recording' Carl smiled and began to speak into the blank vid-screen.
"Dizzy, I wish you where there or I wish you would pick up so that I can talk to you. I'm very sorry about what happened. I talked to Johnny and he said you're not returning his calls. I'm worried about you Dizzy; I want to be there for you, for both of you. But you have to pick up when I call. Dizzy... you take care of yourself; I'm here for you if you need me. Call me to talk, we could always do that, remember?" Carl reached forward and hit the release key; he then covered his face with his hands and let his tears fall.
ONE YEAR LATER:
"Replaying archived messages... message one..." Carl's face appears on the vid-screen.
"Dizzy, I wish you where there or I wish you would pick up so that I can talk to you. I'm very sorry about what happened. I talked to Johnny and he said you're not returning his calls. I'm worried about you Dizzy; I want to be there for you, for both of you. But you have to pick up when I call. Dizzy... you take care of yourself; I'm here for you if you need me. Call me to talk, we could always do that, remember?"
A shaking hand reaches for tissue to wipe a chapped nose. The other hand reaches out to the vid-screen console and taps the REPLAY button.
SEVEN YEARS LATER - NEAR THE THOMAS DAVIS:
"So that's what she looks like... she's a beautiful ship if I do say so myself." Gossard was looking out a porthole at the Thomas Davis as they drew closer to the landing bay.
"Yeah, she's a beaut! I did an investigative report on her shortly after she was christened. Wait until you see the inside." Despite the dark moods of both Doc and Gossard, Higgins had not lost his excitement for the upcoming reunion.
"Shouldn't you be setting up your camera or something?" Doc was leaning against the bulkhead but he could still see out a porthole at the looming Thomas Davis.
"No, I figure the REAL reunion would just be for us, but that means we'll have to shoot a reunion scene. It will just be the beginning of the undercover investigative report that Rico said I could do... This is going to be great!" Higgins was beaming again and now he was almost prancing around like an excited little kid.
Gazing out the porthole put a contemplative look into Gossard's eyes. He turned and looked at Doc. "So they're divorced now?" Doc nodded, Goss shook his head. "What happened? I mean, I know what HAPPENED, but HOW did it happen?"
Doc stood up straight and rubbed his chin. With a sigh he began to speak. "Okay, Rico goes out on the first 'tenting' mission to... what ever that place was called, anyway, when he left Dizzy was three months pregnant. When I talked to Dizzy after that she was stressed out and I mean bad... She kept on telling me she had this feeling that Rico wasn't going to come back, that he was going to die... Well you remember the initial news reports from that one, they where BAD, heavy losses - organized resistance.
"Well, for the first few days Rico and his squad where MIA. That was just ten weeks after he left. Dizzy freaked, by the time she called me she could hardly breathe. Her blood pressure spiked and wouldn't come back down. Her doctors where very worried about her health as well as the baby. After two days with no decrease in BP the doctors couldn't take any more risks and they induced her. Little Miguel went straight into an incubator and then into ICU. He held on for a week but his lungs just couldn't take it. When he died... well I think a big part of Dizzy died with him." Doc ran his hand through his hair. That story had been enough to claim Higgins' excitement a bit."
"Wow, man... how come they never told us anything? Everyone just kind of lost touch after that..." Gossard sounded hurt.
"Hey, Dizzy is still carrying this around with her. Just being around us is going to be hard enough. So you guys lay off her, alright." Higgins and Gossard looked at each other questioningly. Doc continued - "Don't say you're sorry or anything like that. As a matter of fact, don't even bring it up." Higgins and Gossard nodded their heads in unison.
"What ever you say Doc..." Also in unison.
"The first shuttle is docking now Major, passengers will enter through the door on your left." The ensign pointed at the door and then quietly departed the lounge. Rico paced back and forth on one side of the table that dominated the center of the room. When Rico heard the hiss of the automatic doors, he stopped and turned towards them.
The first person into the lounge is Higgins, with a huge smile and his hand outstretched to shake. Rico smiles back and heads around the table to shake his hand. Doc and Gossard enter the lounge together, talking quietly between themselves.
Gossard looks around the room quickly. "WHAT?! No chow?! Not even those little hot dog things?" Gossard held up his hand with thumb and forefinger spread about an inch apart.
"We have that all set up in the mess hall with all the decorations and cameras. I thought this first meeting would just be for us." Rico walked over to the water pitcher and poured himself a glass. Higgins was still beaming and seemed very proud of himself. Rico looked over at him, "It's not often that I get to stand in the same room with a celebrity. How've you been Bobby? Or should I cal you Robert now?"
Before Higgins could answer Doc finally spoke up. "I just call him Paperboy - name still fits."
Rico smiled and looked over at Doc. "Good to see you Doc. I thought you where retired?"
"Don't get me started Rico..." Doc reached for a glass.
"President Redwing? There's a call for you, it's your husband." Miriam looked up from the paperwork on her desk and keyed the intercom.
"Put it through on my private line please, and hold all of my calls until I get off of this one." Miriam released the intercom key and thumbed the controls for her pop-up vid-screen. As the screen came up it was filled with the face of Charlie Zim. Miriam smiled. "Thanks for calling honey, are you on board already?" Charlie grunted.
"No, not yet. I don't know how secure of a line I can get from the ship and I wanted to talk to you without anyone else listening in." There was a groan from behind Zim.
"What's that Charlie?" Miriam tried to look over Zim's shoulder. Zim dipped on of his shoulders enough for Miriam to see Max Brutto slowly getting to his feet. "What happened to him?"
"Oh, he fell down the stairs..." There was a wry grin on Zim's face.
"Charlie! You big bully! You leave the younger kids alone..." Miriam said it with a harsh tone and a wry smile.
"So what's the situation now Miriam?" Zim's face lost the wry grin.
"Nothing's changed honey - this operation is still Top Secret - Level One, the Council doesn't even know about it. No flight plans have been sent to Tophet - they don't even know you're coming. Nothing is going to change that Charlie. You guys are just going to have to be extra careful with everything that you do... Backup is going to be a long way away."
"Okay Miriam, okay. I understand. I want you to be careful too. This is some weird stuff and we don't know how deep it goes." Miriam rolled her eyes. "Just watch your back, okay sweetheart?" Miriam put on a big smile.
"Yes dear..." Charlie's features began to darken until Miriam winked. "I doubled my body guards this morning. Don't you worry about me Charlie Zim, you have enough to worry about keeping your own butt out of trouble." Charlie smiled.
"...no, that's how I met my second wife. You know those rag sheets never get anything right." Higgins was cut off by the hiss of the automatic doors as they opened. Charlie Zim and Max Brutto entered the lounge. Max marched straight up to Rico.
"Sergeant Max Brutto reporting for duty sir!" The glare that Max was giving Rico was not how a sergeant should greet his commanding officer.
"At ease sergeant. We can take care of the formalities later. I thought we could all meet here in this lounge first, have a kind of reunion. Are you thirsty, would you like some water?" Rico motioned to the water pitcher. Max's expression only soured.
"If there will be nothing else sir then I would like to be dismissed to my quarters, Sir." Max said the word 'sir' like it tasted badly. Now Rico's expression soured, he had forgotten how much trouble Max Brutto could be.
"Actually sergeant, I would like you to stay here until the last shuttle arrives in eighty minutes. Until then you can sit here at the table and only speak when spoken to. AND you will use a respectful tone, are we CLEAR sergeant?" Rico didn't raise his voice but everybody heard what he said. Max slumped his shoulders and looked at the floor.
"Yes Sir." With that Max sat down.
"Citizen Flores, the ship has docked. You may disembark now." Dizzy looked up at the speaker on the wall and she continued to hug her knees to her chest. Her cheeks where still moist with tears and her eyes where blood shot and red rimmed, her nose was runny so she occasional sniffled. She sat in her seat, slowly rocking herself with her chin resting on her knees until the pilot came to check on her.
"Are you alright ma'am - should I call for a medic?" The pilot softly touched Dizzy on the shoulder. Dizzy looked up at him and sniffled.
"You wouldn't happen to have a tissue would you?" Dizzy sniffled again.
The pilot reached into his breast pocket. "As a matter of fact..."
"...that was the craziest night of my life and yes - that is the first time I met my first wife." Higgins was interrupted again by the hiss of the automatic doors. This time Dizzy stepped into the room. Everyone stopped talking and looked at her, every face smiling. To Dizzy, every smile was full of pity, full of sympathy. The atmosphere was too much for Dizzy to handle and so she fell back on the emotion that had served her best, anger.
"Why don't you take a picture? It'll last longer..." That statement made everyone blink. "What is this anyway? A welcome back to Outer Space party?" With that Dizzy walked across the room and poured herself a glass of water. Still no one else had said a word. Looking down into her glass of water, Dizzy's anger quickly turned to anguish. Tears filled her eyes and when she looked up they started to roll down her cheeks. Rico cleared his throat.
"It's good to see you Diz..." Johnny took a tentative step towards her.
"I really don't want to talk to you right now Rico, how much longer until we get underway?" Dizzy was trying very hard to suck her tears back up inside herself. Johnny's posture dropped as he answered.
"We should be underway in less than thirty minutes."
TOPHET MILITARY ACADEMY:
J'Ton raced down the corridor, rushing to reach T'Phal with the news. Other Tophetti jumped out of his way and yelled warnings to others as he came sprinting down the corridor. T'Phal could hear the commotion coming down the hall, so when J'Ton burst into his room, breathless, T'Phal was not surprised.
"What is so important that it would make you run through the halls like a crazed person." T'Phal's voice was calm; he spoke slowly, giving J'Ton time to catch his breath.
"Smoke is headed this way!" J'Ton blurted out between breaths.
T'Phal's eyes got wider, "What?!"
"The... the Thomas Davis... went into hyper drive a short time ago... and our engineer friend says that they are... headed straight for us!" J'Ton was slowly getting his breath back but he was still very excited.
"And our 'friend' was sure?" T'Phal's mind was already racing.
"He gave coordinates for the far side of this system. So they could come out of hyper drive at a safe distance and then sneak up on us." J'Ton had as much of his breath back as he was going to get.
"And you have these coordinates?" J'Ton nodded. "Good... scramble the squadron, we're going to turn that ship into dust... into smoke!"
THOMAS DAVIS - BRIDGE:
"Sir, Intel confirms that the Tophetti have launched their fighter squadron towards our exit coordinates. What are your orders?" The ensign did not sound nervous but the way her hands moved across the communications console betrayed her unease.
The information made Carmen curse under her breath. Thinking aloud Carmen said, "How could they have known? We've only been underway for twelve hours..."
Thinking she was being asked a question, the ensign answered. "They must still have contacts with the Skinnie support personnel."
Carmen frowned. "Thank you ensign... and that is 'Tophetti' when you are on my bridge - are we clear ensign?"
"Crystal sir, crystal..."
Johnny was lying on his back, looking at the ceiling. In his head he was replaying memories, sorting things out for himself yet again. Seeing Dizzy had unearthed a lot of memories that Johnny had buried for a long time, and reliving those memories had Johnny lost in thought. But whenever he looked at how his life had gone wrong he saw one of the underlying blames to be SICON. He had given the last twelve years of his life to SICON and what does he have to show for it? A dead son? A ruined marriage? No, a chest full of metals and ribbons.
Johnny found himself feeling very bitter with SICON and he didn't know how to make it go away. But then he began to think about himself and how he has been hiding in his work, hiding in SICON - finding refuge in the thing that has screwed him over time and again. Johnny tossed and turned a few times on the bed, trying to think of something else. The memory his brain locked on to was the event that Johnny saw as the beginning of his downfall.
SEVEN YEARS BEFORE:
His squad had been MIA for five days before they where able to signal for retrieval, he had wounded personnel and everyone was exhausted. When the retrieval ship docked onboard the Valley Forge there was an urgent message to report to the captain as soon as he was off the retrieval ship.
Word was sent ahead that he had arrived so that the captain was expecting him. The captain explained that due to losses taken on the initial assault that no leave was being granted and that he would have to have his squad ready for action in seventy-two hours. THEN he told him he had an urgent call holding from Earth.
A doctor appeared on the vid-screen with a solemn look on his face. "Lt. Rico, I'm sorry to inform you that due to medical conditions with your wife, labor had to be induced..." Johnny heard the rest but he already knew what was coming - his baby had died. And his commander had just told him that he could not go home and comfort his wife. Johnny asked if he could see Dizzy and he was informed that visiting hours where over and that his wife was asleep.
Johnny went back to his cabin and pounded the wall a few times. Then he sat and cried. Then he got up and learned to bury himself in his work, his squad was ready in three days and they where the most decorated unit in the operation.
SEVEN YEARS LATER - SENATE CHAMBER: TOPHET:
"The fighter squadron has been launched T'Phai - it is headed by your son, T'Phal." The Senator sounded so 'matter of fact' - he was one of the 'hawks' on the senate.
"I know my son heads that squadron, it does not change the fact that they should not have been launched in the first place." T'Phai didn't SOUND matter of fact - he WAS matter of fact.
"So you're telling me that the fully armed battle cruiser heading here unannounced, the one that can mask its presence from our sensors, is NOT attacking?" The Senator's words dripped sarcasm.
"That is exactly what I am saying Senators. This ship is not going to attack us. It has nothing to do with the disappearances that have occurred lately. They are coming on a peaceful mission." T'Phai had not changed his tone of voice.
"How can you be so sure of this T'Phai? It is the safety of our planet, or peoples, that weigh in the balance." The Senator sounded very serious now.
"I have spoken with their leader and know of their intentions. I have known these humans longer than any other and see no reason to distrust them. I ask, no, I beg the Council to withdraw the fighter squadron from its attack on the SICON vessel. I give you my personal assurance that this is not an attack." T'Phai squared his shoulders and looked the other Senators in the eye.
THOMAS DAVIS - BRIDGE:
"Sound General Quarters. Load all missile bays, prep all fighter wings for launch." Carmen frowned at the holographic battle map display. It showed three groups of fighters, each approaching from a different angle of attack. She probably knew and trained most of the Tophetti pilots and she did not want to go up against her students. This was bad, this was very bad...
THOMAS DAVIS - MESS HALL:
"General Quarters? What are WE suppose to do?" Higgins sagged in his chair, they had just gotten everything set up for the first 'reunion' shots - it was going to look so good...
"Stay put. Let me find out what's going on and then we'll take it from there." Rico stood up and headed for the door. Max jumped up to his feet as well.
"What about me sir?" Max barked. Rico didn't even look back over his shoulder.
"That includes you sergeant." The door hissed open and Rico walked out.
T'Phal keyed the Command circuit on his communications console. "J'Ton? M'Zar? Respond."
"Good. J'Ton, I want you to take your fighter wing and slide wide, down and right. M'Zar, I want you and your wing to slide wide, up, and left. Remember, the enemy ship is down. Both of you head in and try to engage the fighters close to the ship. I will hang back with my wing and ACT like reinforcements. When the fighters are engaged with your wings, I will dart in with my wing and fire the anti-matter charges. When I do this you must both disengage and retreat. Tell your wings to scatter away from the enemy ship and regroup at the rally point. Are there any questions?" T'Phal waited for the reply he knew he would get.
"No Sir." In unison from J'Ton and M'Zar.
"Well it looks like some Tophetti fighters are closing in on our position." Rico tried to sound nonchalant. Dizzy's head shot up.
"Tophetti? Why would the Tophetti be attacking us?" Dizzy sounded confused. Zim, who was sitting next to her muttered under his breath -
"Because they didn't know we where coming." Dizzy turned a wild eye at Zim and then pointed her finger at him.
"Why don't they know we're coming and how do you know that they don't know?" Dizzy was getting more confused. Zim just kept his mouth shut and looked straight ahead.
Rico cleared his throat. Again, Higgins reached up and hit the record button on his hidden pocket voice recorder. Then Rico began to speak, "Okay... something that everyone needs to know at this point. The operation that we have been gathered for is Top Secret Level One. Meaning it is a clandestine operation done outside the bounds of 'normal' SICON operations, we are also operating without the knowledge of the General Council. We are flying without manifests and so we are not notifying our destination of our arrival. I had hoped that T'Phai would of had this all squared away by now..." Rico shook his head in disbelief.
"So what happens if the Skinnies...uh, I mean Tophetti, attack? What then?" Gossard sat up as he asked his question.
"I guess we'll just have to wait and see Goss. I don't know..." Rico shrugged. Dizzy flipped.
"Well that's just great! You bring us all the way out here just to get fried by some Skinnies!" Once again Dizzy fell back to her anger in a time of need. Higgins clicked his recorder off and tried to defuse the situation.
"Hey guys - nobody's fired a shot yet. Heh, I've got the camera set up on a tripod and I want to get some still images of all of us together as a group - you know, like a class picture...what do'ya say? Let's all gather around in front of the camera." Dizzy turned around to face Higgins and pointed her finger in his face.
"You know what Bobby? I think that is a stupid idea. I think your entire piece is a stupid idea. I don't want to be in any of your pictures. Heck, I don't even want to be HERE anymore. I mean who cares? Really? I don't! I don't care about any of you!" Her last words came out like thrown daggers.
Doc's gruff but calm voice spoke up from the background. "Don't say stuff like that Diz. You know you don't mean it. You're just upset and angry, but you have a right and a reason to be, so being angry is perfectly natural. Just don't say things to hurt other people because you are upset." Doc let his words sink in a little before he continued to speak. "I remember a day on Klandathu, our backs where against the wall and Paperboy was getting 'Good Bye' speeches from everyone." Heads started to nod as people remembered that day, all those that where there anyway. "At the end of the day the only person who hadn't done a 'Good Bye' was Razak. He said all the people there with him that day where the only people that he cared about - we where his family. Well I got to tell ya, I see it about the same way and I think you do too." When Doc finished talking Dizzy started to weep.
Gossard whispered to Higgins, "I guess we'll take pictures once Dizzy's done crying."
T'Phal keyed the "All" button on his communications console and spoke to his entire squadron. "Attention all pilots - begin your attack runs on my mark... 3...2..." There was a break in the radio transmission.
"This is Colonel T'Phai to Fighter Squadron. Abort attack. Repeat. Abort attack."
"This is T'Phal... father, why is the attack being called off? We are defending our homeland from hostile invaders!" T'Phal's voice was growing heated.
"They are on a diplomatic mission and come in peace T'Phal. Your fighter squadron is to escort the Thomas Davis into orbit around Tophet, your squadron will be offered as an honor guard for this ship. Do you have any questions commander?" By his tone, T'Phai knew there shouldn't be any.
"No father, no questions - All fighters, form up on my wing, we are to act as an honor guard to escort this ship into an orbit around Tophet. Pay attention to the ship and don't trust them, but don't open fire without my direct order to do so. T'Phal out."
"Hey Diz - thanks for taking those pictures, I think that helped everyone out." Johnny spoke softly as the mess hall cleared out as people went back to their cabins.
"Look Johnny, I'm here because you said Carl is in trouble. Don't get any funny ideas that I want you back in my life. Now I know we are going to have to work together so I will talk to you, but don't get any stupid ideas. I'm here to make sure Carl comes home okay." Dizzy didn't bother to speak softly. Johnny held up his hands.
"Whatever you say Diz - whatever you say..."
ONE WEEK BEFORE:
"Replaying archived messages... message one..." Carl's face appears on the vid-screen.
"Dizzy, I wish you where there or I wish you would pick up so that I can talk to you. I'm very sorry about what happened. I talked to Johnny and he said that you're not returning his calls. I'm worried about you Dizzy; I want to be there for you, for the both of you. But you have to pick up when I call. Dizzy... take care of yourself. I'm here if you need me. Call me to talk, we could always do that, remember?"
"Erasing archived message... message erased."
"I'm coming for you Carl, I'm coming..."
Next Episode: 204: Dead Drop