NEWS

Coming Home (1st Draft) Part 1

EXT. SPACE
Earth is a spot in the distance, the Moon barely a bright dot.

BOB (O.C.)
Orion to Greeley Control. Come in Greeley.
(pause)
Greeley Control, do you read? This is Orion.
EDDIE (O.C.)
Anything, Bob?
BOB (O.C.)
No. Just dead air. No static. No nuthin’.

The camera dollys back into the command deck. Only a few
controls appear to function. Illumination comes from red
emergency lights. Two figures are silhouetted against the
view screens. Bob is seated. Eddie is standing behind him.
EDDIE
Keep trying. All frequencies.

INT. ORION COMMAND DECK – CONTINUOUS

BOB
Sure thing.
(muttering)
Not that it’ll do any good.
(louder)
Any station. This is ISF Orion
transmitting in the clear. Any
station, do you read?
EDDIE
(shaking head)
Has to be the arrays.
BOB
You can’t fix what you can’t reach.
Anything from engineering?
EDDIE
No. Not much left between here and there.
BOB
Yeah. That last hit rattled my
teeth right down to my ass.
Surprised we’re still in one piece.
Mostly.
(pause)
Orion to Greeley. Do you read?
(pause)
You think the captain made it?
EDDIE
Doesn’t seem like it. She’d be back
by now.
(pause)
If she could.
BOB
You think she even got there?

Eddie turns and looks aft.
EDDIE
Been thinking about it. Lab section
went after she left.

He shrugs and turns back.
EDDIE (CONT’D)
I’d say there’s a good chance she
went with it.
BOB
Mmm. Maybe so. Bad timing. So now what?
EDDIE
Keep trying, I guess. Closer we
get, the better our chances.
(louder)
How’s it going back there, Sam?
SAM (O.C.)
(female, distant)
Just about finished, Eddie.
(pause)
Done.

Sam enters the room, wiping her hands on her shirt. She
stands behind Eddie and Bob.

EDDIE
Find anything?
SAM
Same as the last three times. Nada!
Problem’s gotta be on the other
side of the bulkhead.

She takes a seat.
SAM (CONT’D)
Or the hull. Either way, can’t do
anything about it. Captain took the
only suit.
EDDIE
Her decision. She knew the risks.
SAM
Coulda sent one of us.
EDDIE
I think she felt responsible.
SAM
For what?
(gesturing)
All of this shit? How was that her fault?
EDDIE
Dunno how she thinks. Couldn’t get
inside her head, even if I wanted to.

Eddie sits in one of the command seats. Chen enters the room.
EDDIE (CONT’D)
Supplies?

Chen slumps into the other command seat. He runs a hand over
his scalp.
CHEN
We’ll make it. Just.

He leans forward and peers at the view screen.
CHEN (CONT’D)
What’s that?

They all lean forward.

EDDIE
What’s what?
CHEN
(pointing)
There. Upper right. Thought I saw
something flash.
BOB
Nah. I don’t see any …

He looks closer.
BOB (CONT’D)
Shit! There is something there.
EDDIE
(squinting)
Station? Comsat?
BOB
Way too far out, I think. Can’t
tell if it’s moving.

He taps the blank radar scope.
BOB (CONT’D)
Best I can do is keep an eye on it.
SAM
Any idea when we start decel?
EDDIE
Maybe an hour. Maybe a day. Maybe
never.

He glances out the view screen.
EDDIE (CONT’D)
Looks like we’re tracking straight in.
CHEN
That can’t be good.
SAM
What about orbital insertion?
EDDIE
If auto’s still working, it’s out
of our hands. If not, it’s still
out of our hands.

CHEN
So we could hit atmosphere and make
a really big flash bang. At least
everyone’s gonna know we’re home.
SAM
Everyone who’s still alive. There’s
a reason they build the drive
reactors out here.
(leaning back)
Right now, we’re just a big fucking
bomb!

Chen gestures at the screen.
CHEN
And that’s the target.

He leans over Bob’s shoulder.
CHEN (CONT’D)
Can we maneuver at all?
BOB
If we had manual control. Which we
don’t. And could disengage auto.
Which we can’t.
CHEN
So what? We cross our fingers and
hope not to die?
BOB
Oh, I’m pretty sure auto’s still with us.
CHEN
Really? What the hell makes you
think so? You got no power on that panel.
BOB
Because something got us home, and
it sure wasn’t me. Question is, does it have anything left to
control?
(gesturing left)
One of those hits took out the port
thruster pods. And you’ve seen
what’s left between us and
engineering. Probably won’t matter anyway.
(pause)
Decel will rip us apart first.
What’s left of us.
EDDIE
Guess we’ll find out when it starts.
BOB
If it starts. Hang on …

A faint crackle of static. Bob presses his headset closer to
his ear. Eddie leans forward.
EDDIE
What …

Bob holds up a hand and listens intently. He leans back again.
BOB
Thought I heard something. Guess not.

Static. Louder. Everyone leans closer. Faint, indistinct
voice. More static.
SAM
(hushed excitement)
Clear it up!
BOB
(exasperated)
Gimme a sec, will ya?

He fiddles with a dial. Static. Louder. Silence.
BOB (CONT’D)
Shit! Lost it!
CHEN
What about that ship we saw?
EDDIE
All I saw was a flash. Coulda been
anything. Shitload of stuff
floating around out here.
BOB
Yeah. And we’re flying blind
without the radar. Can’t see a damn
thing.
(pause)
We’re fucking lucky we got this far
without hitting anything.
SAM
I’m not sure I believe in luck.
BOB
Must be something to it.
(slapping the console)
This is like being deaf and blind!
We’ll see what auto does. If it does.
CHEN
So we wait?
EDDIE
So we wait.

EXT. SPACE
The dot flashes in the distance, still too far away to make
out details.

INT. ORION COMMAND DECK – LATER

Sam is dozing in a seat. Bob is still at the controls. Eddie
and Chen are going over a checklist.
CHEN
Why are we even bothering with
this? Nothing’s changed in months.
EDDIE
Just trying to occupy some time. Or
would you rather just sit here and
stare at the walls?
CHEN
Fine. Whatever.

He picks up the checklist.
CHEN (CONT’D)
So the radio’s crappy; we got no
radar at all; manual control is
toast. Auto may or may not be
working. Portside thrusters are gone …
(twirling a finger)
… so best we could do is really
fast donuts and no way to stop.
What else?

EDDIE
Life support? Main computer?
Gravity? Well, that’s obvious.
CHEN
Computer’s completely fried. Most
of it’s on the other side of that
bulkhead. Life support’s minimal,
but online. And don’t ask me how.
It’s controlled from engineering.
EDDIE
So we got lucky there. Looks like
the keel is all that’s holding us
together. Some of the control
conduits run right alongside. What
about cabin power?
CHEN
Minimal solar and battery, I think.
Most of the lights are blown
anyway. What power we have is going
to the controls. And we don’t have
many of those, so they don’t take
much. But I’ll tell ya …
(gesturing)
… this em-red shit is about to
drive me crazy!
Chen sets the list in his lap and looks out at Earth.
CHEN (CONT’D)
So you think they’ve spotted us yet?
BOB
Probably. Those big-ass flares
behind us put out a pretty big signature.

Sam jerks awake and looks around quickly, panicked,
terrified. She stares at the others.
SAM
Shit! Shit, shit, shit!

The others turn quickly toward her.
EDDIE
What? Look like you’re seeing
ghosts!

Sam calms down a little. She looks around the room.

SAM
(breathes heavily)
Something like that. I think I was
dreaming.

Her eyes are still wide. She looks around again.
SAM (CONT’D)
Everything in here was all busted
up. And cold. And you guys were all
dead. I mean, fuck, it felt so
real, except — not real — at the
same time. And I – I think I was dead, too.
CHEN
Well dammit, Sam! Don’t dream
anymore! Scared the shit outta me!
BOB
You aren’t the only one. Orion to
any station. Come in. Orion to
Greeley Control. Do you read?
EDDIE
Try that ship or whatever it was.
BOB
Still can’t tell, but I think it’s
bigger. We may be closing on it.
(presses headset closer)
Orion to approaching ship. Do you
read?
Eddie squints at the screen.
EDDIE
Yeah. Still can’t make it out.
Maybe a patrol cruiser. We’re
probably entering restricted space.
SAM
What if they don’t know it’s us?
BOB
Shoot first; pick through what’s left.
SAM
They’d kill us?
EDDIE
Way I look at it, unless auto can
put us in orbit we’re already dead.

He shudders.
EDDIE (CONT’D)
(sighing)
Try the radio again.
BOB
This is ISF Orion. Greeley Control,
do you read? Any station. This is
Orion. Do you read? Approaching
vessel. Do you read?
(louder)
Dammit! Can anybody hear me?
EDDIE
I don’t think they can. Best give
it a rest, Bob. Try again later.
When we’re closer.
SAM
(fanning herself)
Is it me or is it getting a little
stuffy in here. Harder to breath.
CHEN
I’ll check the scrubbers. Still got
a couple of cannisters left.
(pause)
Been saving them.
SAM
Saving them for what? An emergency?
What the fuck do you think this is, asshole?

Chen ignores her. He moves to the rear and opens a panel. Sam
moves around the cabin. She looks aft through the port.
SAM (CONT’D)
(quietly)
So do you think they knew what was happening?
EDDIE
Who?
SAM
The rest of the crew. Amidships. It
happened so fast. Do you think they
had time to feel anything?
BOB
That’s a cheery thought.

SAM
I’m serious.
EDDIE
Some of them, maybe. More like a
split second of surprise. Explosive
decomp is pretty much instant, and
probably painless. I doubt any of
them had time to be anything other
than dead.

Sam sits back in her seat.
SAM
(quietly)
I don’t want to die.
EDDIE
Not many do, Sam. Most times it
isn’t a choice. We all knew the
risks when we signed on.
BOB
That’s something I don’t plan on
doing again. I’m gonna find me a
lake and a fishing pole, and my
feet’ll stay firmly planted on the
ground. And that’s where I want to
be when my time comes.
SAM
If I’m gonna die, I just don’t want
it to be slow and painful.
EDDIE
Not my first choice, either. But it
won’t matter in the long run.
Dead’s dead.
They’re all quiet for a moment.
SAM
I wonder what it’s like? Being
dead, I mean.
BOB
You wonder a lot. Do you have to be
so morbid?

Chen returns. He wipes his hands on his shirt.
CHEN
I guess we’ll all find out …
sooner or later.

He sits in the command seat again and pulls up a small
folding table from the side. He takes an old deck of cards
from his pocket and starts dealing solitaire.
CHEN (CONT’D)
(holding up a diamond)
Fucking emred! Can’t read the
cards.
SAM
Do you think there’s a Heaven? Out
here? Are we closer to it? Or
farther away?
(pause)
Or does it even exist?
BOB
Heaven, Nirvana, Valhalla. Maybe
nothing. Whatever, I figure
someone’s gonna be really surprised.
SAM
(quietly)
I hope there is.
(sighing)
I think I’d like Heaven.

She slumps back in her seat, lost in thought. Eddie stares
blankly at the back of Bob’s head. Chen gathers the cards,
starts to shuffle, stops. Earth is closer. Chen stares
somberly at the cards in his hands.
CHEN
We should have started decel by now.
EDDIE
Looks like it.
BOB
Bow thrusters may be gone.
CHEN
We can’t slow down?
BOB
Or stop. So yeah. We’re fucked, if
that’s what you’re thinking.
SAM
There’s gotta be something we can
do. Something we haven’t thought of? We
can’t get this close and die!
CHEN
Maybe we’ll miss. Just pass real
close?
BOB
Yeah. Maybe. But I wouldn’t count on it.
EDDIE
Even if we did, then what?
(gesturing)
One side, we could hit the Moon.
Other side? Gravity slingshots us
around and we could still hit the Moon.
(pause)
That’s if we don’t hit a station
first. Three scenarios. None of
them good. We die.
BOB
A butcher’s bill no matter what.
Four or …
(gesturing toward Earth)
… four billion. Give or take.
SAM
I don’t like any of the choices.
CHEN
What about self-destruct. If we’re
gonna die anyway.
BOB
Computerized. And the manual
control’s in …
CHEN
… engineering. Yeah. Figures.
Another masterpiece of design.
EDDIE
Only other chance I can see is they
get someone out to us. Take us off,
blow the ship.
(pause)
Shoulda spotted us by now.
SAM
So why haven’t they? Not much left
of us, but we aren’t invisible.

They’re all quiet. Somber. Lost in thought.
BOB
Orion to Greeley. Do you read?

EXT. SPACE
In the darkness, a floodlight shines over the wreckage. It
moves slowly forward.

INT. ORION COMMAND DECK – CONTINUOUS
No one has moved. Chen gathers up his cards.
CHEN
Anybody hungry?
BOB
Nah! Orion to Greeley. Come in,
Greeley.
EDDIE
Me either. Can’t remember the last
time I was.
CHEN
Yeah. Just a thought. Rations
aren’t exactly memorable.
(pause)
Funny, though. I can’t remember
what a steak tastes like. I always
loved a good steak. Medium rare,
inch thick or so, big baked potato.
That’s what I want when we get
back. Refresh my taste buds.
EDDIE
I could go for a cold beer. And a
pizza from that little place on
43rd. Moretti’s. But you’re right,
I can’t remember what they taste
like, either. Been out here too
long.
SAM
I’d like a cigar.
EDDIE
(scoff)
You don’t smoke.

SAM
Still want one. I just like the way
the tobacco smells. Reminds me of
my dad. Didn’t say I wanted to
inhale that shit.
EDDIE
What about you, Bob?
BOB
Orion to Greeley. Blackened redfish
on a big pile of dirty rice, side
of gumbo. Courville’s in the
Quarter. Sometimes, I think I can
just about smell it all.
SAM
Weird, isn’t it? I mean, like none
of us can remember the last time we
ate? I can’t even remember the last
time I pissed.
CHEN
Well that’s not exactly something I
keep track of myself.
SAM
No. I guess not. Still, it’s weird.

An audible metallic clang. The crew jolts up and looks toward
the airlock. Another loud clang. Scraping.

TO BE CONTINUED

Hop Sing

     ‘How in the name of Krishna did this happen?’ he thought. ‘One moment I am getting laid, the next I am up to my nose in shit, and I am almost naked!’

     When the yelling had started, he’d only had time to grab his underwear before diving out the window as her father broke through the door.  He’d knocked her brothers over in his headlong dash, but some of the buckshot still found a soft target.  He didn’t know how far he’d run or where he was, and he didn’t care.  As a hiding place, this left a lot to be desired, but certainly no one would look here, and it beat the hell out of the option.

     ‘I have shit in my eyes!  I have shit in my ears!  Things cannot get worse!’

     But they did.

     Three very angry men charged around the corner of the dark alley and ran past the open cesspool.  He sank lower, trying to leave only his nose above the surface.  It was all he could do not to retch.

     ‘Why did she have to be his daughter? And a fucking screamer!’ 

     The men stalked back past the cesspool.  Her father, the big one with the cleaver, paused for a moment and peered intently at the darkened, shit-filled pit, then turned and followed the others.

     Gingerly pushing through sodden toilet paper and bloated condoms, he moved slowly toward the edge of the pool and peeked over.

     ‘I am in such deep doodoo,’ he thought, the joke entirely lost in the moment. 

     He’d been the Sous Chef for a couple of months, and in that time had never seen her in the restaurant.  And Chef never talked about his family.

     ‘Please,’ he prayed, ‘do not let me die like this.  Or any way.  I cannot get into heaven smelling like . . .’

     He whimpered and sank back as, from the end of the alley, Chef’s deep voice erupted in the darkness.

     “I know you’re around here somewhere, Patel!  You can’t hide from me forever, and you won’t get far without your clothes!  I’ll find you, you piss-brained, cock sucking, sack of rotting dog shit!  I’ll stick your pecker in an ant hill!  I’ll cut off your balls with the dullest knife I can find!”

     There was a long pause, and the sound of steel scraping on stone.

     “Then maybe I’ll slice them thin and sauté them . . . in butter . . . perhaps with a little garlic and sage!  Or maybe I’ll make a nice cojone curry!  Then I’ll make you eat them!  Keep hiding, Patel!  I have all night!”

     And it was a very long night.

     Sometime just before dawn, on the verge of giving up, and in danger of drowning, he was saved when Patrol officers drove down the alley and ran the three men off.  Dripping shit, wearing one shoe and red lace panties, he crawled slowly from the cesspool and limped away in the darkness.

     Two days later, subdued, sanitized, and shot full of antibiotics, he booked passage on the shuttle to the Station.

Axe and Whizzer Brody

Master James M. Brody, VII

Brody Enterprises

JMB8-2027 c/o brodyemp34772

4.23.77:1322

Dearest James.

Just thought we owed it to you and Mum to at least let you know that we’re all okay.  We located Will, although it wasn’t easy finding someone who didn’t want to be found.  It was really more of a chance encounter in a strange place.  You know that being the youngest, Will was the most affected by losing Dad.  So you shouldn’t have been surprised at the result.

I’m sure that you and Mum will be terribly scandalized, but we’ve decided to stay here with Will.  Please don’t ask where here is.  Mum would have one of her designer fainting spells and take to her bed and bottle again.  Dad would have understood, and I’m convinced that wherever he is, he’s laughing.  And quite frankly, James, we don’t give a rat’s poop if you approve or not!  It’s well past time that we had lives of our own, instead of just existing in the privilege of the Brody shadow.  Sitting around listening to Mum’s whining and you yelling?  Not fun!

We’ve all found jobs (yes, we do know how to work), so don’t be concerned that we’ll blow through our Trusts.  Our pay isn’t that much, but more than enough for our needs.  Our coworkers are more like family than, well, they just are.  A little on the eccentric side, but we love them for it.  None of us are registered by our real names or codes, so please don’t bother yourself trying to find us, although it probably wouldn’t take much for someone with your vast influence.  You wouldn’t recognize us now, especially Will, and I’m sure you would not approve of that, either.  But not to worry; no one is likely to ever connect us with you, and that’s the way we want it, right?

So that’s it, I guess.  Please at least pet Rocky and Sam for us, and even Mum’s nasty little Muffy (I’d suggest thick gloves).

Do have a nice day, James.  And kiss kiss to Mum.

Alexis, Victoria and Willis

APB-2032 c/o brodyemp27289

Lt. Commander Jasper Canfield

canfield feature

            Dark.  Head hurts.  Need to scratch my feet.  Why does my tongue taste like bird poop?

“How bad is it, Bones?”

“As bad as it gets, Jim.  That blast did a lot of damage to his lower legs.  I had to take some off, but he’ll live.”

            Voices.  Who . . .? Why can’t I see?

“What about his eyes?  Can he still see?”

“Now how the hell do I know?  Damn it, Jim!  I’m a doctor, not a . . . damn it!  He’s got those weird extra eyelids.  Flash just took his eyebrows off.  Guess we can remove those bandages now.”

            Bones?  Jim?  Eyebrows???

“Anyhow, his Vulcan physiology is a lot different from ours.  For all I know, he’ll just grow new legs.  If he doesn’t, he’ll be the shortest Vulcan in Star Fleet!  Probably won’t improve his disposition any!”

“Can he hear us?”

“Hell if I know!  Spock!  Wake up!  Spock!”

Spock?

“Commander?  Can you hear me?”

            New voice.   Uhura?

“Lieutenant Commander Canfield!  I’m Doctor Collins.  Can you hear me?”

            Canfield? Sounds familiar.  And why is she shouting?

“I think he’s coming out of it, General.”

“Jasper!  Shake it off, man!”

“Wuh . . .muhfuh . . .er”

“What?  Did he just say . . .?”

“They say a lot of things when they come out of anesthesia.  They’re quite disoriented.  I treated a young lieutenant once . . .”

“Jasper!”

“Sp . . . sp . . . Spock.”

“Spock?  What the hell’s a spock?”

“Who, sir.”

“What?”

“Spock’s a who, sir, not a what.  Well, technically, maybe he is a what.  And a who.  He’s a Vulcan . . . or was; not exactly human, but . . .”

“What in hell are you talking about, Collins?  Jasper!”

“Not . . . Jasper . . . Spock . . . I think.  Live long and . . .”

“What the hell’s he doing with his hand?  Jasper!  Snap out of it!”

Canfield’s eyes fluttered open, and he squinted at General Larkin’s face hovering inches from his own.

“Someone . . . needs a mint.”

“What?  Oh, sorry. I . . .”

“Gen . . . General Larkin?  Sir?”

Smiling broadly, Larkin sat back and patted Canfield on the shoulder.

“That’s my boy!  Welcome back, son.  Thought we might lose you.”

“What happened to Bones?  Ah . . . oh, never mind.”

His eyes slowly focused, taking in his surroundings, the two officers by his bed, and the tent over his legs.

“Why am I in a hospital room?”

General Larkin leaned back, glanced at the doctor, and took a deep breath.

“Well, son, as to that, um, maybe we should leave the explanations until you’ve had a chance to rest up a bit.”

“I’m rested enough, sir.  Feel like I’ve been asleep for a couple of days.”

“Weeks, actually.  You’ve had a, uh, small accident.  Well, not exactly small.”

“What kind of accident?”

“Do you remember anything about your last simulator run?  Anything before you woke up here?”

Canfield thought for a moment.  Even before his military training, his mind had always been clear and focused, and he never forgot anything.  A photographic memory and total recall were a great combination, and had helped put him at the top of every class he’d ever taken at the Academy.  But now that he thought about it, there was a hole, something missing, an elusive something that skittered away each time his mind reached for it.  Like trying to catch smoke in your hand.

“I remember heading to the main simulator building, then . . . that’s it.  Nothing until I heard Bones, thought I heard . . .  Nothing until I heard you.  Sir.”

Larkin took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Well, long story short, the simulator experienced a catastrophic failure . . . with you in it.   Full suit, pressurized.  By the time they got it shut down, the damage was done.  Your legs . . .”

Larkin paused, and looked over at the doctor for help.  Doctor Collins sat on the edge of Canfield’s bed and took one of his hands in hers.

“The explosion and heat caused severe damage to you legs from the knee down.  Nerves, muscle, pretty much everything was fused.  I’m afraid we couldn’t save much. “

“Then how come I can feel my feet?  They itch like crazy.”

“Phantom sensation, Commander.  Your mind expects to feel them where they’ve always been.”

Canfield slowly lifted the sheet, silently looking down for a minute at what wasn’t, then lay back staring at the ceiling.

“Great!  Just fucking great!  What about transplants?”

“That’s always an option, but even with a perfect match, there’s a strong possibility they won’t function nearly as well as your natural legs.”

Canfield closed his eyes for a moment, then turned to look at General Larkin.  Space flight had been his dream all his life.  He was afraid he knew the answer before he asked the question.

Captain Robert J. Church

church feature

As the cab pulled away and headed back down the driveway, Major Robert Church hefted his overstuffed flight bag and walked toward the front door. The house, as usual, looked neat and well-kept, so his feeling of unease seemed misplaced.

“Just the usual post-mission jitters,” he thought. “But she’s going to be really pissed this time.”

He paused for a moment to take in the scene. He’d never really liked this house, in fact, he hated it. But Angie loved it, and it was free … an oversized, ostentatious, colonial replica that her father thought was a great wedding gift. Too bad he hadn’t thrown in the upkeep.

“Good old rich, snobby, overbearing, cheap dad. And his rich, snobby, overbearing … beautiful, intelligent daughter.”

He sighed and reached for the doorknob, but turned at the sound of a vehicle coming up the drive. A military staff car pulled to a stop in front of him, and General Larkin emerged from the back. Tall and greying at the temples, the crisply uniformed Larkin was the very epitome of a ranking Space Command officer. In fact, he was the ranking Space Command officer, head of the whole organization.

“Glad I caught you, Rob,” he said. “Thought you might need a little backup for reentry.”

“Appreciate it, sir,” he said, “but some things I probably ought to do solo.”

Church tried the doorknob. It was unlocked and the door swung open. There were no lights, no sounds, and … no furniture. He stood for a few moments waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Stacked in the middle of the foyer was just about everything he owned, at least what she had allowed him to keep.

“Shit,” said Larkin, peering over Church’s shoulder. “Didn’t see that coming.”

“I did,” Church replied quietly.

He approached the stack and stood for a moment taking it in. On the top was a large envelope addressed to “Major Robert J. Church, USAF.” The return address read “Shuster, Kline, and Shuster, Attorneys-at-Law.” He didn’t bother to open it; just folded it and stuffed it in his flight bag.

Larkin looked around as he moved past Church and into the house.

“Looks like she took everything, including the dog,” he said.

Church slumped down on a box that sank down slightly and crunched under him.

“Fuck that!” he said, a rising tinge of anger in his voice. “She took Robbie!”

– Two months and a lot of alcohol later –

 “You are a major piece of work, Colonel! Just what, exactly, were you thinking?” 

General Larkin leaned forward, slapping his hands on the desk, but pausing long enough to move his coffee cup out of range.

“Or more precisely, what were you thinking with?”

Standing at wavering attention on the other side of the General’s desk, newly-promoted Colonel Robert J. Church smiled slightly, and began to relax.

“Aw come on, Myles, you know . . .”

“General! And this isn’t funny, Rob . . . Colonel!” He peered closely at Church. “Are you still drunk? Or just totally clueless? Do you have any idea the position you’ve put me in?”

“Pretty sure it was her position . . . can I sit down?”

“Negative! Stand there and sweat!”

With a burp, Colonel Church placed a hand over his mouth. Larkin hastily grabbed the trash can from beside his desk and thrust it at Church.

“Crap! Here, stick your damn head in it if you have to!”

Larkin pointedly examined the ceiling as Church bent double, head in the trash can, and retched. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, the Colonel straightened up the best he could.

“Really think I should shit, sir. Sit, shir.,” he said, giggling.

“Oh Christ!” Larkin waved him to a chair. “You’re hopeless! Sit! And do it at attention!”

Church plopped down in a chair, trying to keep his back straight and his face serious, and failing at both. Fingers peaked and eyes closed, the General took a slow, deep breath before continuing.

“Senator Jackson is . . . is . . . “

“Pissed?”

“That’s a polite way of putting it,” Larkin replied.

“He’s a fat, loud-mouthed, prickless . . . prick!”

“But a fat, loud-mouthed prickless prick who also happens to be Chairman of a certain Oversight Committee,” Larkin said, glaring at Church. “And can you guess which one that is?”

“Shit! Look, Myles . . . General. It just sort of happened. You know how these parties go. I didn’t know I was boinking his wife.”

“And his daughter. Let’s not forget her, shall we?”

Church smiled.

“Not a chance! Good thing she takes after her mother! What I can’t figure out is how someone who looks like . . .”

Larkin waved his hands, stopping Church before he could say more.

“That has nothing to do with it, Colonel! Fact of the matter is, the good Senator from Texas wants your head! Both of them! And if I don’t hand it over, he wants mine!”

Church looked at his hands, the floor, anywhere but at Larkin.

“Guess I fucked up good this time,” he said quietly.

“That’s a true understatement, Rob,” Larkin replied, just as quietly. “A true understatement.”

“So what’s the next move, Myles?” Church said, looking up.

General Larkin stood, came around from behind the desk, and placed a hand on Church’s shoulder.

“He wants you sacked. If he had his way, he’d have you drummed out of the service, sword broken, buttons torn off, the whole thing. And public flogging! But, he wants this entire matter kept quiet.”

“So I’m fired,” Church said, bluntly.

“No. You’re going to resign for . . . well, we’ll come up with a plausible reason. No recriminations, no black marks. But either way, I’m afraid you career is over.”

“And then what? The military is all I’ve ever known. When Angie left, I . . . Robbie . . .” He heaved a sigh, stifling a sob.

Larkin squeezed his shoulder, looking away for a moment before continuing.

“Rob, we’ve been friends for a long time. I’m not going to leave you dangling in the wind. You’re a damn fine officer, and it just happens that I may have a place for you, if you want it. It’s a little out of the ordinary, but . . .”

Elodia “Loader” Rodriguez

Time passes slowly when you’re standing blindfolded, shackled, and naked.

She didn’t really know how long she’d been chained to the bolts in the deck; she could have counted her heartbeats, but didn’t see much point. The naked part was annoying, but pretty much what she expected from the Patrol. It’s how they transported all prisoners – it made escapees kind of hard to miss, especially on the Station. Hell, she wasn’t even mad about being poked, prodded, and probed. What pissed off Loader Rodriguez was the number of idiots who had made up any old reason to drop by the holding cell to get a look. And god knows how many pictures would be circulating.

Not that she didn’t sort of deserve what she was getting, at least not as far as the authorities were concerned. She had, after all, punched out a senior officer. What was it someone in the bar had called him? Major Twat-face? Yeah, sometimes facial hair made men look like that, but this guy was really a dick! She smiled slightly – could someone with a twat-face be a dick, too? He’d had his hands all over her ass, and under normal circumstances Loader wouldn’t have minded much. But he was loud, and drunk, and didn’t bother to ask. And when she told him to knock it off, he laughed tobacco and scotch in her face and went for the gold. So she punched him in his pussy-mouth and laid him out on the deck.

So, here she was, marking time until the next scheduled transport took her Earthside for a court martial and about twenty years hard labor.

“Mm-mm-mm…”

She jumped — hadn’t heard this one come in.

“So was it worth it?”

“Who the fuck wants to know?”

“Now don’t be that way, Loader. Personally, I think you shoulda kicked Twat-face’s balls into his cheeks.”

“I take it you were there?”

“Front row seat. Orloff’s usually pretty good about the entertainment, but this was superior – even by my highly refined standards.”

“Hmph? So whatta you want? A look? A feel, maybe?”

“Nah! Well, a look, for sure. Can’t help that. You are kind of…out there. But I’ve got a message for you.”

“From who?”

“Whom…and it doesn’t matter. Just don’t get too excited about your little planetary vacation trip. Isn’t gonna happen!”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just wait for it.”

“What? Who are you? How – ?”

“Hello?”

“Still there?”

“Shit!”