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Straker, somehow it's
always about you.

Posts: 990
Location: Fulton, MO
Fallen Heroes
Mar 25th, 2011 at 8:02pm
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Fallen Heroes
(A UFO Story)
by Denise Felt 2011

This story is dedicated to Matthew White, who begged for it.

Chapter 1

“Well?” he barked, his sensuous lips thinned and his beautiful blue eyes as cold as ice.

Virginia’s own lips tightened to keep from an angry retort.  She stood in front of his HQ desk and drew a calming breath, then said, “The new shielding only protects the equipment from small to medium sized solar flares.  We can’t operate through a severe one, and you know it.”

“You’re saying we’re blind, Colonel?  After thousands of dollars worth of upgrades on those damned computers – we’re still blind?”

“Look, GOES is measuring this flare at X13!” she said, holding onto her temper by a thread.  “No radar we have – no radar anyone has! – will work right now.  We’re doing what we can, and as soon as it dies down, we hope to be able to relocate the UFO.  But until then, there’s nothing more we can do.  We knew this one was going to be large, and we prepared for it.  All air teams have been mobilized, and although our communications are sketchy at best right now, if they spot it, we’ll know.”

Straker’s hand clenched on the report he’d been reading when she had entered his office.  “That’s not good enough!”

“Well, what else would you have us do?  Sir?” she said waspishly, as frustrated as he was with the limitations of their technology.

Surprisingly, his anger seemed to fade as hers escalated.  He sat back in his chair, his hand falling to his side and the fierceness dying out of his eyes.  “Thank you, Col. Lake,” he said in a much milder tone.  “For coordinating the flight teams and working around the radar static.  You’re doing an exemplary job, and I appreciate it.”

She didn’t want his appreciation, and her arms folded as she gave a short huff of irritation.  “I don’t want your appreciation, Commander,” she said tersely.

He raised one eyebrow, his sense of humor tickled slightly by this uncharacteristic display of pique.  “What do you want then, Colonel?” he asked.

“I want – !”  Oh, the list of things she wanted!  First and foremost of which was the man who even now was gazing sardonically at her!  She took a deep breath and let it out, allowing it to drain her anger along with it.  “That UFO, sir.  I want that UFO.”

Now he smiled, as pleased with her determination as he had been displeased with their inability to effectively fight in these conditions.  “Then I know you’ll get it,” he said calmly.  And he reopened the report he’d been reading and went back to it.

It was a dismissal, and she knew it.  She left the office, furious with him for so easily breaking through her self-control and getting her to lose her temper.  She felt ruffled and in disarray and smoothed a hand down her platinum blonde hair in an attempt to reestablish some calm.  Damn the man anyway!  It seemed lately as though the harder she worked, the more he expected the impossible from her.  And she was finding it increasingly difficult not to just haul off and hit him.  In fact, the only thing that apparently made him happy these days was when she did lose her temper and say something not quite proper to be said to a commanding officer.  It made no sense, and it bothered her greatly.

Especially since she prided herself on her self-control. 

* * *
After she left the office, Straker laid down the report and gazed for a moment at his closed door.  Virginia Lake was such an incredible asset to SHADO: her brilliance in designing equipment that was capable of keeping their technologically-advanced enemies at bay, her dedication to Earth and keeping it safe, and her ferocity when it came to anyone or anything that attacked either of those two passions.  But she also possessed a cool outer shell that hid that passionate nature from all but the very discerning.  She’d given Alec what the colonel often referred to as “ice burn” when he’d approached her on the day they met.  And even Foster, who’d taken advantage of her vulnerability when Craig was reported dead, hadn’t gotten very far with “the ice princess,” as Straker had once heard him call her.  Only Craig Collins had penetrated that outer coolness, getting as far as dating the untouchable colonel for a time before he died.  Straker still wondered how he’d managed it?  How Craig had been able to get through that impenetrable icy shield she wore to touch the warm woman within?

More and more these days it seemed as if that question demanded an answer.  And even as the commander told himself over and over that going down this path would lead him to swift and painful humiliation, he somehow could not stop taking the steps that would bring him closer to her attention.  He hated it that he didn’t seem to have any control over it. 

But he was also coming to realize that life without her in it – without her passionate ferocity occasionally heating his frozen extremities to some semblance of warmth – was no longer an option.  Dr. Jackson had often warned him over the years that he was headed for a self-destruction that would be catastrophic in its explosion.  But the commander doubted very much if even Jackson expected that self-destruction to take the form of a certain cool-eyed platinum blonde with the eyes of a goddess.

* * *
He fell asleep over his reports.  He knew better than to stay at HQ all night.  But lately he’d found his bed increasingly empty and his dreams more than disturbing.  They’d become downright erotic, and that wasn’t something he was ready to face.  Especially since the object of all that focused desire treated him most of the time like an overbearing boss she could hardly stand the presence of, then alternated that with occasional wry smiles of complete accord that made his heart race.

But even here, in his most sacred of sanctuaries, the dreams followed into his exhaustion, taunting him with her knowing smile and perceptive grey eyes.  He woke sometime later with a groan and blinked as he opened his eyes to the lighted office.  He sat back in his chair, his spine stiff from sleeping in an uncomfortable position, and he stretched with a yawn as he tried to get his bearings.  When he opened his eyes again, he saw someone standing near the conference table.  He blinked again, his mind not comprehending what he was seeing.  Was he still dreaming?

“Craig?” he whispered, almost afraid to speak out loud.

His old friend and co-pilot took a silent step toward him.  “Help her!” he said, his expression filled with agony.  “Save her!”

Straker’s heart squeezed painfully.  “Virginia?  Is something wrong with Virginia?”

“Save her!” Collins cried once more before fading away.

The commander didn’t stop to consider whether it was wise to listen to what all appearances seemed to be a ghost.  Instead he slammed his hand down on the button to open his office door and fairly ran from the room as the doors slid back.  Lt. Johnson was at the communications center, and he bit back his instinctive demanding tone when he realized that Ford had long ago gone off-shift and was probably home sleeping the sleep of the hardworking.  Damn him!

“Lieutenant,” he said in a much milder tone than he ever used with Ford.  “Where is Col. Lake?”

“In her office, sir,” she answered after a slight hesitation, hoping that she wasn’t getting the colonel in trouble by telling him her whereabouts.  She liked Col. Lake and often wished she had half the confidence Virginia showed when she stood up to the Boss Man. 

“Thank you,” he said as he sprinted past on his way to the hall.  He had no idea how Virginia could be in trouble here in HQ.  Their security was excellent, after all.  But he also knew that her brilliance in creating equipment that kept the aliens scrambling made her a target for death, and he wasn’t going to leave her safety in the hands of Security alone.  Her door was open, and he didn’t even pause at the doorway before entering, but raced on through.

She looked up in surprise from the report she was in the middle of writing and blinked at the sight of him.  He looked disheveled, which was not at all how she was used to seeing him.  And he looked frantic, which she had only witnessed once in all the years they’d worked together.  “Commander?” she asked, putting down her pen and standing.

“Are you alright?” he demanded.

“Yes,” she answered, confused why he would be asking.

His piercing blue eyes looked her over carefully before transferring to the office at large.  She let out her breath once his gaze was no longer on her, dizzily aware that she’d been holding it while those gorgeous eyes scanned her body.

“What is it, Commander?  Has something happened?  Are we under attack?”  They’d gotten the UFO that had hoped to slide through their defenses earlier during the solar flare – more by luck than anything else.  But she wasn’t one to complain when she caught a break, so her report was carefully worded to give her team the credit for the hit.  She hadn’t heard SID announce anything since then, and in fact, had thought the commander had long since gone home.

Straker ran a hand through his white blonde hair, messing it further as he sighed.  He glanced at the most efficient member of his senior staff, who even at this late hour looked as immaculate as she had that afternoon in his office.  He felt decidedly rumpled next to her, and that, added to his embarrassment for bursting in without warning, sharpened his voice when he replied.

“No.  Everything’s fine.  Just fine, Colonel.”  He noticed the report she was working on.  “Carry on,” he said tersely as he turned to leave her office.

“Commander?” she asked in bewilderment; not sure what was going on, but certain that something was.  “Sir?  What is it?”

He sighed again and met her eyes, obviously considering how much to say.  She held his gaze, keeping her face as calm as possible, until he nodded and said, “Close the door.”

She obediently closed her office door and sat down as he took the seat in front of her desk.  It felt all wrong for him to be on that side of the desk and for her to be in the position of power, but she wasn’t going to argue the point.  Of all the bosses she’d had in her life, Commander Straker had the least concern for protocol when it came to dealing with his staff.  She was constantly amazed by his disregard for how an officer of his caliber was supposed to be treated, often conferring with his subordinates as an equal and asking for their opinion as if it really mattered to him.  She supposed that unexpected humility was just one of the many reasons his people would lay down their lives for him at any given moment.

Virginia remained quiet, giving him time to decide what he would tell her.  She already knew it was something serious.  She was more worried that it might be something horrific, since she couldn’t help but remember the last time she’d seen him look this way.  They’d been on the run then, trying to stop a madman from turning SHADO HQ over to the aliens.  She still occasionally had nightmares about that day.

Finally he spoke.  “Are you certain that you’re okay?”

His concern made her throat want to close up, but she swallowed and said, “Yes.  I’m fine.  I didn’t expect my report to take this long, but I’m almost finished with it.  I’ll be heading home shortly.  Actually, sir, I thought you’d already left for home yourself.”

He ran a hand over his face, feeling the stubble that marked a long night.  “Not yet, Colonel,” he said as briskly as he could.  “I’ll get there eventually.”  He sat back in the chair and gazed at her for a moment in silence.  Then he said, “I fell asleep in my office and had a dream.  At least, I think it was a dream.  I hope it was a dream, because it really makes no sense that it even happened.”

She quickly hid any surprise she felt at his confession to falling asleep at his desk.  Everyone at HQ knew it happened.  It was a given with the hours he habitually worked.  But for him to admit it was astonishing.  “What occurred?” she asked softly, aware that he needed her help right now, not her disapproval of how he took care of himself.

“I saw . . .”  He trailed off and searched her eyes again.  She didn’t know what he hoped to find there, but she tried to remain at least outwardly composed.  Finally he continued.  “I saw Craig.”

She blinked.  Instinctively she shut down, even the questions screaming through her mind cutting off mid-sentence as she drew back, forcing herself to relax against the back of her chair.  “What did he want?” she asked coolly, proud of how calm she sounded while her heart pounded loudly in her ears.

His penetrating gaze never left her face.  He knew this would hurt her.  How could it not?  But there was no way for him to handle this situation without her assistance.  Of all the others at SHADO, she’d known Collins best.  Even better than he had.  It had been her warning, after all, that had alerted him to the fact that Craig was no longer himself.  He was Craig’s best friend, but he hadn’t noticed it – or maybe he simply hadn’t wanted to.  But in the end, it came down to the fact that Virginia was probably the only person besides himself who knew why Craig would have visited him tonight.  If he had.

“He told me that you were in trouble.  He wanted me to save you.”

Her breath caught.  “I – I’m fine!” she stammered, trying to understand how Craig would think she was in danger at the same time she was remembering how her commander had run to her side to protect her.  She felt completely overwhelmed by both images.

Straker nodded, glancing around her pristine office once more as if to reassure himself of that.  “I see.  Then it must have just been a dream, Colonel.  I’m sorry to have interrupted you.”  He stood and went to the door, but turned before leaving to say, “Just in case it wasn’t, I’d like you to have a security detail follow you home tonight.”

“Yes, sir,” she agreed, well aware that his request wasn’t really a request at all, no matter how nicely it was worded.  After he left, she picked up her pen to finish her report, but her hand was shaking too much for her to write anything for some time.
« Last Edit: Mar 25th, 2011 at 9:29pm by Neesierie »  

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Re: Fallen Heroes
Reply #1 - Mar 26th, 2011 at 1:01pm
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Chapter 2

Straker spent most of the next day topside at the studio.  He wasn’t avoiding the colonel – exactly.  He just needed some distance to get his thoughts back into some kind of order.  Whatever had happened in his office last night had obviously not meant what he had thought it meant.  He knew that for certain this morning when the security detail gave him their report.  Col. Lake was fine, her home had checked out and was fine, and nothing at all had threatened her during the night.  He felt more foolish than anything else.  Rushing to her side like some damned cowboy in a bad western.  He was lucky she hadn’t called security – on him! 

What had that visitation meant?  Had it been Craig – or something else altogether?  Had he only dreamt it?  Or should he be worried about a similar occurrence in the future?  He’d already heard from the security team who’d taken apart his HQ office this morning.  He’d told them nothing – except to do it.  Their report an hour ago gave him the all-clear that there had been no tampering with anything in his office.  It should have relieved him to know that at least that possibility had been ruled out.  Instead, it made him nervous.

He couldn’t quite shake the twitch he kept feeling between his shoulder blades.

Eventually he made his way past the back lots to where a small secluded park hid among the trees.  He’d included it in the original specs of the studio grounds when they began building fifteen years ago, thinking it might come in handy to have a place to unwind when he couldn’t quite get away from things.  But even he had not realized how much he would use that small oasis of quiet over the years as the demands of his job became more and more difficult.

He came out of the surrounding trees and approached the stream, walking onto the wooden bridge that spanned it and leaning on the rail.  Here he could think – could get past the pressures of his position and the demands for his time.  And here he might be able to get the image of Craig’s distraught face out of his mind long enough to figure out what it all meant.  Craig had once been one of his closest friends, going way back to when they both had been in the astronaut training program.  He’d never really gotten over the loss of that friendship after his friend had come back after being shot down by a UFO.  Craig had been changed by the aliens into a terrible machine with one goal: to kill his old friend.  Even knowing the truth of it, even seeing the emptiness in those eyes as they’d fought thousands of miles above the planet in the silent void of space, Straker still had times when he wondered if he’d done the right thing when he’d ended Craig’s life for good.

He ran a weary hand over his face and sighed, knowing that today was not the day to bring all that back to mind.  Today he had to find out why Craig had contacted him.  If it had been Craig and not just some bizarre twisted dream.  He’d looked like his old self in the office, dressed casually as he used to do – in spite of regulations sometimes.  But Craig had always been a laid back kind of guy.  Not everyone’s cup of tea, especially those like Col. Grey who did everything by the book.  But Straker had always enjoyed Craig’s casual approach to life, often wishing he himself could be that carefree.  The only thing out of place last night had been his expression, which was what had alarmed the commander most.  Craig rarely ever got agitated about anything.  But when he’d appeared to Straker last night, he’d been worried – distressed even.  And that uncharacteristic emotion in his face had made his friend react instinctively to help in any way he could. 

But Virginia had been fine.  And in no danger either then or later in her own home.  So if she wasn’t who Craig had been referring to, then there must be someone else.  Someone he thought his old buddy Ed might know about.  Someone his commander might be able to help, since Craig no longer could.  Straker rubbed his eyes to ease the headache that sat right there behind them. Hell if he knew who his old friend had meant! 

“Damn it, Craig!” he whispered fiercely.  “Give me a clue – something to go on!  I can’t help if I don’t know where to look, can I?”

Suddenly he stiffened, certain that he was no longer alone in the park.  Since no one ever came here, he had no idea who it might be.  He turned swiftly from where he stood leaning against the railing –

and saw Col. Lake watching him quietly from the pathway.  He stared at her for a long moment in complete shock, unsure if she was really there or his mind was seeing things again.  Then she spoke.

“Am I interrupting?”

Straker realized that she must have heard him talking to someone who wasn’t there.  He flushed slightly, but managed to say with a semblance of his normal calm, “Not at all.  Was there something you wanted?”

She took her courage in both hands and came forward to stand near him on the bridge.  He looked haggard close up, as if he hadn’t slept well.  Virginia sighed.  Well, that made two of them.  “I was thinking about what you said last night – about Craig.”

He shook his head.  “I’m sorry for bothering you.  I had no intention of hurting you by bringing up the past.  I misunderstood what he was telling me.  If he was telling me anything.  If I was even awake.”

He sounded so discouraged that she almost let the matter drop.  But then she remembered how upset he’d been when he’d burst into her office, and she said, “When I woke this morning and realized that he couldn’t have meant that he was worried about me – because obviously I’m okay – then I thought that perhaps he might have meant another person.  Did he mention me by name?”

His blue eyes searched her grey ones a long time before he spoke.  “Tell me something.  Do you really believe that I saw Craig Collins in my office last night?”

She kept her eyes on his as she answered.  “I believe that you believe you did.  And that’s enough for me.”

His eyes dropped away from hers as he sighed.  “No, he didn’t mention you by name.  I just assumed that he was talking about you.”

“Why was that?”

He could hardly tell her that he’d been dreaming before Craig had intruded, so his mind had been on her.  “Because you were the last woman who was close to him before . . . before he died.”

“Is it possible that he could have meant a different woman?  What about his ex-wife?  Did you contact her to see if she was alright?”

He stared at her.  “What?  Craig was married?”

“Yes,” she said, frowning slightly.  “I guess I thought you knew.”

“No.  He never mentioned it.  I wonder why?”

“Well, you met him in astronaut training, right?”


She nodded as if that explained everything.  “His wife left him just before he entered the program.  She told him that he loved outer space more than he loved her.  It’s one of the reasons why he never got close to anyone after that.  He didn’t want them to come between him and his work again.”

“Until you,” he said quietly.  “What made you different?”

Virginia shrugged.  “I guess because I didn’t threaten his work.  And he could talk to me.  Just like I could talk to him.”

He would have liked very much to pursue that line of conversation, but more important questions intruded.  “Do you know her name?”

“No.  He always called her Sissy, which I’m assuming was his pet name for her.  But I’m sure it’s in his records.  Shall I look it up for you?”

“Will that be a problem for you?”

She stared at him for a moment before she realized what he meant.  He wasn’t asking if she didn’t want to be bothered to check Craig’s records.  He was asking if it would hurt her to check them.  Her heart ached anew at his instinctive concern for her feelings.  Those who thought him a cold man had no idea just how wrong they were.  But the women at SHADO knew the truth.  Their commander was a giant among men.

“No, sir,” she answered once she’d swallowed the lump in her throat.  “I don’t mind.”

“Very well,” he said, suddenly very brisk.  “See if you can find out where she is these days.”  He frowned for a moment, then said, “It’s doubtful that she ever moved out of the States, so it may be necessary for me to go there to check on her.  Would you be willing, Colonel . . . to accompany me?”

His blue eyes were bland when she met them, but she knew he was hiding some deep emotion behind that careful mask.  She answered without hesitation.  “Of course, sir.  I’ll let you know as soon as I find out anything.”

As she turned to leave the park, he said, “Thank you.”

And she knew he meant it for more than just the records.

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Re: Fallen Heroes
Reply #2 - Mar 26th, 2011 at 11:58pm
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Chapter 3

“Cecilia Monroe,” he read from the printout as he lounged in his comfortable seat on the jet.

“Yes.”  Virginia looked up from her work and met his blue eyes across from her.  “Apparently she remarried a few years after their divorce.”

“Hmmm.”  The commander glanced down at the report.  “A banker.”

His tone said it all.  Virginia fought back a grin and said, “It’s to be hoped that he didn’t love money more than he loved her.”

Straker gave her that wry smile that did insane things to her blood pressure.  Emboldened by his response, she added, “Or perhaps that was simply a love that she understood.”

His smile became a grin.  “Are you a cynic then?” he asked teasingly.

“Aren’t you?”

His face closed up, becoming a bland mask.  He looked out the window for a moment, then said quietly, “I suppose I am.”

She wished she could take back her incautious words.  It was all too easy for her to lose sight of who she was talking to with him.  He had such a sarcastic wit that it tended to get her own going.  “I’m sorry, sir,” she said.  “I didn’t mean to pry.”

“No, that’s alright,” he replied, angry at himself for taking her question to heart.  “You didn’t offend me.  Besides, I asked you first.”

“Well, you have that prerogative,” she said drily.  “You’re the commander.”

That smile returned as he met her eyes.  “I like it when you forget,” he said.

She didn’t have a comeback for that statement and instead went back to her scheduling, waiting for her heart to return to its normal rate.

After a time, he said quietly, “I wish he’d told me about her.  I have no idea what to expect.”

She put down her pen and thought.  “He didn’t mention her often.  They were both very young when they married.  From the sound of things, they didn’t really have a lot in common.”

“Hmmm.  She lives in Ohio.  I’ve never been there.  Have you?”

“No.  The Midwest was never my idea of a fun time.”

His lips quirked.  “Nor mine.”  He turned to her.  “Well, it seems as if we’re going to find out what it’s like there fairly soon.”

“I guess so.”

His eyes held a fugitive twinkle at her dry tone.  “Come now!  Enthusiasm – that’s the ticket!”

“Yes, sir.”

He chuckled, enjoying the bite of her tone.  After a moment, he said, “Thank you for coming with me.  I hope you don’t think this is all just a wild goose chase.”

She grinned, unable to help herself at the sudden image of him chasing a field full of geese.  Her eyebrows rose.  “I didn’t think they chased geese in New England.”

He grinned back at her.  “They don’t.  Thankfully.”  He fiddled with the edge of the printout for a moment, then added in a more somber tone, “Do you think I’m being foolish to pursue this?”

“No.  Craig wouldn’t have come to you if it wasn’t important.  For all his joking, he took life very seriously.”

He sighed.  “I’ve never believed in ghosts, you know.”

Virginia chuckled.  “Well, he always was full of surprises.”

He laughed.  “God, you’re so right!  I still remember the time he dressed up as a hooker and proceeded to start brawls everywhere we went.”

“Now, that’s a story I haven’t heard!”

He sobered when he met her grey eyes.  “Hmmm.  Yes.  Well.  It was quite a long time ago.  I’ve forgotten it myself, in fact.”

“I’m sure you have,” she said so drily that his lips twitched.  Then she sighed.  “Thank you.”

“For what?” he asked, surprised.

She shrugged.  “For – I don’t know – talking about him, I guess.  No one does anymore.  At least, not when I’m around.”

“I know,” he said quietly.  “You miss him?”

She nodded.  “Sometimes.  He could always make me laugh.  I’ve been told I’m too serious most of the time.  But Craig could get me laughing so hard I almost cried.  I miss that.”

“Me, too.”

There was silence in the cabin for a while, both of them lost in memories.  Finally, she said softly, “I don’t know how you did it.  I couldn’t have.  I wouldn’t have had the strength.”

“Do you blame me?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper.

“Of course not.  You did what you had to do.  Do you blame yourself?”

His eyes searched the distant clouds outside the window.  “Sometimes.”

“You shouldn’t.  He would have hated being used like that – turned into a zombie for their purposes.  I wish I had what it must have taken to put him out of his misery.”

“You could have done it,” he assured her quietly.  “In the end, all it took was pity.  I couldn’t bear to see his eyes so empty, so devoid of that spark of joy he had in such abundance.”

“After all he’d done?  Hurting Paul, almost killing John, attacking Dr. Jackson?  Almost killing you?  You could still feel pity for him?”

“That wasn’t Craig.”

She had to blink past tears to see his face.  “You loved him.”

“He was my friend.”

“But – even after everything . . . !”

He turned to her, surprised when he saw her tears.  He took a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her.  She accepted it with a watery chuckle and wiped her face.  Then she sat back against the headrest and met his eyes. 


His eyebrow rose.  “For what?  Making you cry?”

“No.  For loving him anyway.”

“Don’t you?”

She sighed, her hand tightening on the handkerchief.  “Yes.  Yes, I do.  I’ve felt like such a fool for so long, because I still cared.  Even after everything that happened.  But I couldn’t stop remembering how he used to tell me some insane story from his youth or swing me into a dance when a song came on the radio.  I thought I was being disloyal to SHADO.”

He laid a hand over hers.  “You weren’t.  That’s how he deserves to be remembered, Virginia.  That’s the man he was.  Not what he became later.”

After a while, she said, “I tried to talk to Paul about him once.  But he was so angry.  I just let it go.”

“Foster didn’t know him like we did.”

“And Alec?” she asked.  “He was his friend too.  But he won’t talk to me about him either.  Does he talk to you?”

He shook his head.  “No.  But Alec sees the world in black and white.  To him, there are no grey areas.  Either you’re on our side – or you’re not.  The Craig he’d known got lost in the Craig that came back.  I don’t think he’s forgiven me yet for going on that mission after I’d been warned.”

She understood something then.  “You had to give him the chance.  The chance to prove them wrong.”

“Or right,” he said with a sigh, letting go of her hand and sitting back to stare out the window once more.

She almost spoke, but bit back her words.  There were no words, after all, to make his pain go away.  She at least hadn’t seen Craig when he died, so she didn’t have that spectre to haunt her dreams.  And after his death, she’d been able to shove away even the memory of her last confrontation with him, so that she could sleep easier.  But the commander had seen him die.  Had in fact, been the one who had killed what was left of his friend out there in the vast emptiness of space.  She doubted very much if his sleep was peaceful.  “I’m sorry.”

He turned back to her.  “No.  Don’t apologize.  It’s meant a lot to me to be able to talk about him again, especially to someone who knew him well.”

She gave him a slight smile.  “It meant a lot to me, too.”

He reached over and lightly touched her cheek, wiping away the single tear that lay there.  The warmth of her skin was unexpected and in surprise his eyes met hers . . .

It was a long time before he finally forced himself to look away and gaze back out the window.

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Re: Fallen Heroes
Reply #3 - Mar 27th, 2011 at 5:07pm
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Chapter 4

“Sheep,” he said disdainfully.

Virginia choked back a laugh at his tone and turned to look at him as he drove past the field.  “Well, this is the Midwest,” she said.  “At least they’re not cows.”

His only response was a grunt, which she supposed meant that he agreed that it was some consolation.  She continued, “One fourth of the population of Ohio live in rural areas.  That’s a lot of farms.”

“I’m trying to imagine Craig associating with a farmer,” he said with a wry smile.

She burst out laughing before she caught herself.  Her cheeks were slightly pink when she answered him.  “I doubt that he did.  He was from the South, not Ohio.”

His blue eyes met hers for a moment.  “There are farms in the South too,” he said, as though he was referring to a plague.

She grinned.  “They’re called plantations below the Mason-Dixon line, you know.  More civilized.”

He gave a small grunt at that, then blandly said with a sidelong glance, “Of course, I suppose I should be glad we’re not in the mountains.”

Since she had been raised in the Appalachians herself, she knew he was laughing at her.  And she did something she never would have considered doing in her life.  She stuck her tongue out at him. 

She was immediately appalled at herself for behaving so childishly in front of her commanding officer, but he merely chuckled, obviously enjoying himself immensely.  She forgave him for baiting her only because it was so rare to see him this relaxed.  “Well, what would a New Englander know about farming anyway?” she sniffed in pretended haughtiness.  “They’re all fishermen there.”

He chuckled again, sending his fascinating smile her way.  “Lobsta, ma’am,” he said with a strong New England accent, tipping an imaginary cap at her.  “Mebbe even crab.  Not fish.”

She often forgot what an incredible actor he was.  But then, she was rarely in the studio.  Her work kept her in HQ for the most part.  “If I didn’t know better,” she said in mock-scorn, hiding her grin.  “I’d think you were raised on a lobster boat.”

He laughed at that, his blue eyes sparkling.  “If I had my way, I would have been,” he said unexpectedly.  “I was constantly running off as a kid to join the lobster boats as they hauled in their catch.  My mother despaired of me.”

She tried to imagine it – and failed.  “Don’t they go out very early?  What would you be doing up at that hour?”

“Are you kidding?” he asked.  “We’re talking adventure here!  The ocean!  The catch!  The spice of life!”  He gave a luxurious sigh.  “The wonder is that I got any sleep at all.”

She gave him a long look.  “My condolences to your mother,” she said drily. 

He grinned.

“What did your father have to say about it?” she asked, curious to hear these tidbits from his childhood.

“He preferred to ignore the entire situation,” he said, his smile fading.  “Such goings-on were beneath a Straker’s dignity, after all.”

She was sorry to see him lose the sparkle in his eyes.  “Well,” she said.  “At least your
father had some dignity.  I don’t think my father has even worn a tie in his entire life!”

He supposed it was perverse of him, but he adored it when she was exasperated.  He grinned at her and said, “It’s a wonder either of us turned out civilized, isn’t it?”

She flashed a grin back at him before sobering.  “Civilized behavior cannot be overrated,” she told him sternly.  But her expressive grey eyes twinkled.

“So, is this address a farm or a house?” he asked as they entered a tiny village composed of a gas station, a bar, and a mercantile all crowded around a corner.

She checked her sheet.  “It’s a house – in the next town, I think.  Some of these places aren’t on the map.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said sarcastically, glancing disparagingly at the city limit sign as they passed.

Her grin flashed once more.  “It’s hard to believe some people actually prefer to live way out here in the middle of nowhere.”

“It is,” he agreed.  “It really is.”

* * *
Virginia noticed after a while that the commander’s mood had changed.  His eyes still watched the road, but their gaze was distant, as if he were looking inward rather than outward.  His lips had firmed to a narrow line, which told her his thoughts were probably not exactly pleasant, and his hands – at all times his most telling feature – had tightened on the wheel.

“Worried?” she asked quietly.

He stirred and glanced her way.  “Not at all,” he assured her confidently, settling into leadership mode automatically.

She wanted to smack him.  She much preferred the vulnerable man she’d glimpsed on the jet, or even the ornery one she’d spoken to earlier.  When he put on his hero mask, he became untouchable.  She firmed her lips and tried again.  “Then nothing’s bothering you?”

He met her determined gaze, then looked back out the windshield.  His hands tightened momentarily on the steering wheel, then he sighed.  “Two things,” he said tersely.

“Alright,” she said, hiding her relief that he could still be reached.  “Number one?”

His fingers flexed again.  “I’m unsure how to approach her.  We can’t just announce ourselves as friends of Craig.  She divorced him, after all.  If she’s anything like most divorcees, she hates his guts and certainly won’t be disposed to talk to us.”

She realized he was speaking from personal experience more by his tone than anything else.  He never spoke about his ex-wife, and she had always assumed by his complete silence on the subject that his divorce had left a bitter taste in his mouth.  Apparently with reason, if his ex-wife was anything like what he was describing.  “We’ll have to play it by ear,” she said.  “Was she notified when he died?”

He frowned.  “No.  I don’t think so.  It certainly wasn’t mentioned in any of the reports I read.  I’d have contacted her myself if I’d known about her.”

“Then we can simply say that it’s taken this long to track her down.  It’s not that unusual, you know.  Especially since they’ve been divorced for so many years.”

He considered it.  “That may work,” he finally said, and gave her a glance of approval.

“And number two?” she asked briskly to cover her slight blush.

He sighed.  “How are we going to find out if she’s in any trouble?  She’s definitely not going to open up to a couple of strangers about anything that might be bothering her.”

She frowned in thought.  “Well, most worries are financial, aren’t they?  Can we offer her some assistance?  A check from his life insurance or something, then see how relieved she looks?”

He lifted a shoulder irritably.  “I already planned on doing that,” he muttered.

She almost smiled at his annoyance.  He hated to have his generosity noticed.  She wondered for a moment just how large a check he planned on giving Craig’s ex-wife?

Straker shook his head.  “I don’t think it’s going to be something as mundane as finances.  When Craig came to me, he was distraught.  Completely upset.  You knew him, so you have to be aware that he was never like that.  So whatever the problem is, it’s going to be something big.  And I just don’t see how we’re going to be able to find out what it is.”  His mouth tightened.  “Unless we’re too late, of course.”

* * *
But the house they pulled up to twenty minutes later looked amazingly normal.  Boring even.  It was a small ranch-style home sided in a nondescript grey with a tiny overhang over the front stoop.  The surrounding houses lining the street all appeared to be stamped out of the same mold, and the look Virginia exchanged with her commander as they got out of the car showed how completely they were in accord with their feelings.  It was so banal here it was almost surreal.  Even the row of tulips under the front window added to the unreality rather than detracting from it.

He knocked purposefully at the front door, and she was glad suddenly that she wasn’t the one in charge of this mission.  It had been odd enough to come all this way to help a ghost – even the ghost of a friend.  But she definitely felt out of her element in this small town neighborhood, and had to forcibly hold herself back from scooting closer to his calm strength.

But when the door opened, all thoughts on the oddness of the situation fled, replaced by shock.  The woman who stood there so insolently sure of herself was far too young to have ever been Craig’s wife, and her ripped jeans and faded concert t-shirt – not to mention the small ring in one nostril – were not the garb of anyone Craig would ever have associated with.  Virginia swiftly rechecked the house number, certain they had gone to the wrong house by mistake.  But next to her, the commander suddenly stiffened, and she looked closer at the girl to see what he’d noticed that she hadn’t.

Then she saw it.  Beneath untidy bangs dyed a flat black stared a pair of blue eyes the exact shade of Craig’s.   
« Last Edit: Mar 27th, 2011 at 10:03pm by Neesierie »  

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Re: Fallen Heroes
Reply #4 - Mar 27th, 2011 at 10:01pm
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Chapter 5

“Yeah?  What?” said the girl, obviously irritated by the interruption of unknown callers.

Straker recovered first and said smoothly, “Is Cecilia Monroe here?”

“Who wants to know?”

Insolence wasn’t something a man in his position was often exposed to, and he stiffened momentarily, having to bite back his first, instinctive response.  Thankfully, Virginia came to his rescue.

She stepped forward, saying, “We’re friends of your father and need to discuss some things with her, if we may.”

The girl frowned.  They looked too uptight and straitlaced to be selling anything, but she knew quite well she’d never met them before.  “You can’t.  She’s dead.”

They glanced at each other in dismay, making her even more suspicious. 

“How long ago?” the man asked in the tone of someone used to getting answers.  But his eyes looked haunted.  “Recently?”

“No,” she said, almost feeling sorry for them.  “Just over a year ago now.”

“I see,” the man said sadly, turning to the woman, who looked ready to cry.

“Look,” Margaret said, relenting.  “Do you want to come in a minute?  Maybe I can help.  I don’t know much about my dad’s business, but there might be something.”

“Thank you,” said Straker quietly and ushered Virginia in before him as the girl opened the door wider.

They entered a tiny foyer that opened on one side to a small living room, decorated with a sofa and loveseat in a matching faded pastel floral chintz.  Bland floral prints covered the walls.  “Take a seat,” the girl said and dropped onto the loveseat with a wave at the sofa.

“Can you tell us how your mother died?” Virginia asked once they were seated.

Margaret frowned.  “Actually, if you’re friends of my dad’s, I would have thought you knew already, since they died together.  It was a pile-up on I-71 a year ago February during the big blizzard.  They were dead before the ambulances even got there.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Straker said.

“We actually never knew Richard Monroe,” said Virginia, twisting her hands together and glancing briefly at her commander before continuing.  “Or your mother.  We’re friends of your father, Craig Collins.”

What?”  Margaret jumped up from the loveseat and ran an agitated hand through her spiky black hair.  “You knew my father?  You knew Craig?  You’re here about him?”  Then she stopped and looked stricken.  “Why are you here?  Why would you come see my mom about him?  Is he – is he – ?”

Virginia got up and went to her, laying a comforting hand on her arm.  “I’m sorry.  There’s no easy way to say this.  Your father died a year ago April 30th.”

Straker noted that she did not use Craig’s official death date, but rather the one for his disappearance.  Well, he supposed she had the right of it.  The man who’d come back to them hadn’t been Craig anymore.

Margaret returned to the loveseat and sank onto it, looking lost all of a sudden.  “My mom . . .”  She swallowed, then said, “I didn’t know about him, you see.  My mom never told me.  It wasn’t until I was going through her papers a few months ago that I even found out anything.  There was an old diary among her things, and I read it.  Nothing else.  Not even a wedding photo.  I guess she must have thrown all that away.”  She shrugged helplessly.  “I didn’t even have enough information to try to find him.”

Virginia took out her wallet and removed a photo.  “Here,” she said softly, giving it to the girl.  “This was taken a few months before he died.”

Margaret stared at the picture for a long time, her eyes full.  “He’s handsome,” she said finally.

“Yes, he was,” Virginia agreed.  “You have his eyes, did you know?”

Margaret looked up in surprise.  “Yeah?”  She glanced back at the photo and ran a finger over his face.  “I have his hair too,” she said with a grimace.  “When it’s not dyed, that is.”

“He didn’t know about you,” Straker said quietly.  “If he had, nothing would have stopped him from seeing you.  I hope you can believe that.”

She nodded, the tears finally escaping to fall down her cheeks.  She brushed them away impatiently with her hands.  Straker spotted a box of Kleenex on a side table and brought them to her.  “Thanks,” she said and made use of a few.  Once she was composed again, she looked at them.

“I do believe it.  That’s why my mom didn’t tell him she was pregnant when she got the divorce.  She didn’t want him hanging around for me.  It was all there in her diary.  I was so mad at her when I read it!  Didn’t she realize I would want to know?  That I’d want to meet him?”  She gave a huge sigh.  “And now it’s too late.  For anything.”

“There’s his life insurance policy,” Strake said after a moment.  “As his daughter, you would be his beneficiary.”

She shook her head.  “His name isn’t on my birth certificate.  Just my mom’s.  I used to wonder about that, actually.  And I don’t even have their marriage license.  So I can’t really prove that he’s my dad, can I?”

“There are tests that will prove it,” Virginia said.  “At least good enough for the courts.  He’d want to provide for you, even if it was only in this small way.”

“Hey, Mags!” yelled a young man as he came out of one of the rooms on the opposite side of the house.  “Aren’t we gonna finish – ?”  He stopped and stared in amazement at the crowd in the living room.

“Oh!  Corky!” she said, bouncing up from the loveseat.  “Sorry.  I got distracted.  These people . . .”

“Hot damn!” cried the man as he almost ran across the carpet toward them.  “Ed Straker!  You’ve got Ed Straker in your living room, Mags!  How the hell did you manage that?”  He transferred the gadget he carried to his other hand and grabbed Straker’s hand, pumping it enthusiastically several times and grinning hugely.

“Who?” Margaret asked in bewilderment.

Corky rolled his eyes.  “Sorry, Mr. Straker,” he said.  “She’s such a heathen.  It’s all I can do to get her away from her research long enough to go see a movie.”  He turned to his girlfriend and said, “Come on, Mags!  The Long Road Home.  We saw it just last month.  You can’t have forgotten already!”

“What about it – oh!”  She suddenly seemed to connect the movie to her present company and shrugged, turning pink.  “Sorry.  But you didn’t say you were an actor.”

“It’s quite alright,” Straker assured her, recovering his hand from the young man’s grasp.

“What kind of research do you do?” Virginia asked her, eying the gadget in Corky’s hands curiously.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” said Margaret, taking the device from him and covering it protectively with her other hand.  “I just tinker.”

“Say, Mr. Straker!” said Corky.  “Can I have your autograph?  No one’s going to believe you were actually here, you know.  They’ll think I’ve flipped.”

“I don’t give out autographs,” the commander said in no uncertain terms, but was interrupted by Virginia, who placed a slender hand on his arm and spoke.

“But I think he’ll want to give one to you.  Corky, is it?”  And she gave the young man her warmest smile.

He turned a bright pink and stammered for a minute.  Straker could sympathize.  He doubted if there was a man alive who could resist Virginia when she wanted something.  Although he was  unsure what she hoped to get from this boy?

“Of course,” he agreed blandly.  “Do you have a piece of paper?”

“Paper!” Corky cried and ran about the room for a minute before tearing off across the foyer to the room he’d come out of originally.  They heard him tearing about that room for a moment, then he returned triumphantly, brandishing a spiral notebook like a standard.  “Got it!”

He rushed over to them, thrusting the notebook into Straker’s hands.  “Here!  You can sign right there!”

“Corky, those are my equations!” complained Margaret, taking a step forward to retrieve it. 

But Corky blocked her, saying urgently, “Mags!  It’s the only paper in the house!  Come on!  He won’t ruin anything.  He’s just gonna sign his name.  Right, Mr. Straker?”

Straker looked up from the notebook, where he’d been studying what was written on the page.  “Hmmm?  Oh, yes.  Of course.”  He smiled blandly at Margaret as he took out his pen.

He signed his name with a flourish and handed it back.  Corky gazed at it in awe for several seconds, then grinned from ear to ear.  “Thanks, Mr. Straker!  I can’t tell you what this means!”

Margaret wanted to hit him for being so careless.  “Put it back, Corks,” she said firmly.

“Huh?”  He met her steely gaze and deflated.  “Right.  Uh, right away, Mags.  You got it.”  Stumbling over his feet, he took the notebook and ran out of the room to put it away.

Straker stood up, glancing at Virginia as he did so.  She took the hint and got to her feet.  “Thank you for your hospitality, Miss Monroe,” he said.  Taking a card from his breast pocket, he handed it to her and said, “We’ll set things in motion for you to get the necessary tests.  Once that’s completed, you’ll quickly receive your father’s equity from his policy.  In the meantime, if you need anything – anything at all – please contact me, and I’ll see to it.”

“Thanks,” she said, a bit overwhelmed.  But when she glanced at the card, she frowned.  “Wait! 
This is an overseas number.”

“That’s right.  However, it will connect you to my office at any time, day or night.”

“But I . . . !”

He turned back at the door and said, “Oh, and we’ll be staying in town overnight.  If you need anything or have any further questions, feel free to contact us at the Brunswick Hotel.”

“Sure,” she said, her head in a whirl.

Corky came back out into the foyer and cried, “Oh, man!  They’re gone?  Already?”

“Yeah,” Margaret said, closing the door as their car pulled away from the curb.  She tossed him the gadget and went back into the living room to pick up the photo they’d left on the coffee table.  She stared at it for a time, then sighed and looked over at her boyfriend.  Her gaze hardened when she saw the gadget in his hand.  “And you, you idiot!  I can’t believe you just brought that out for anyone to see!”

“Hey,” he said defensively.  “They’re studio types.  They don’t know electronics.  Come on, Mags!  You gotta stop being so paranoid about your research.”

“And you’ve got to stop being so careless!  I can’t believe that you handed him my equations!  My equations!  Just handed them to him like they were nothing!”

Corky grimaced, knowing she was right.  “But there wasn’t anything else to write on, Mags!  Surely you can see that?”

She rolled her eyes, realizing that there would be no getting through to him.  His reality revolved on a different axis from hers.  “Fine.  What’s done is done.  Did you at least get the capacitors  realigned?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, eager to make amends.  “Let me show you.”

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Re: Fallen Heroes
Reply #5 - Mar 28th, 2011 at 6:53pm
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Chapter 6

When she knocked on the connecting door of their suite, he answered it absently.  He let her in without a word, then returned to the side of the bed where he’d obviously been working on something, because he sat down and picked up the notepad lying next to him and immediately went back to whatever he’d started as if she wasn’t there.  Virginia knew that abstracted look well, so she wasn’t offended by his lack of attention.  He was thinking.

And when the commander thought, incredible things happened.

She wandered over to the windows and looked outside at the surrounding town.  She would have preferred to look her fill at her superior officer, who had shed his Nehru jacket, leaving him lean and sexy in just a turtleneck and slacks.  But she had trained herself over the past several years not to stare at him, so she contented herself with the view outside.

It wasn’t a bad town.  In many ways, it might actually be considered pretty.  But she couldn’t imagine growing up here in such stifling suburbia.  Margaret had done well, she thought, in staying true to herself in spite of such a restrictive environment.  Her appearance might be slightly outlandish, but it was certainly uniquely her – which was the whole point of the matter, after all.  Virginia thought that Craig would have been very proud of his daughter.  It wasn’t fair that he’d never gotten the chance to know her.

She felt him near before she saw him, turning slightly as he came up beside her at the window.  “You okay?” he asked her quietly, concern darkening his eyes.

His solicitude always undid her, so she nodded instead of answering, trying to swallow the sudden lump in her throat.

He sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets.  “It wasn’t quite what we were expecting, was it?”

“No.  But in a way, it was actually better.  I liked her.  Did you?”

“Yes.  Very much.  She’s definitely her father’s daughter.”

She smiled.  “I was just thinking how proud he would have been of her.”

“It was so kind of you to give her your picture of him.”

She shrugged, trying not to be moved that he mentioned it.  “She needs it more than I do.”

He admired her profile a moment in the late afternoon sun.  “Will you tell me what’s bothering you?”

She met his eyes in surprise.  “I – I guess all of this has made me rethink some things.”

“In what way?” he asked quietly.

“Well, for one thing, I’ve never believed in ghosts.  I mean, I’m a scientist.  Dead is dead, right?  But now I’m forced to realize that I was short-sighted to see it like that.  Craig never met his daughter – wasn’t even told that she existed.  But he came to you to get help for her.  There’s little doubt that it was her he meant, is there?”

“No doubt at all,” he said firmly.

“Well, then.   You see?”

“Accepting that ghosts might actually be real isn’t what’s upsetting you.  What is?”

She pressed her lips together, then said, “It’s just that – my mother died when I was very young.  My memories of her are pretty vague: the smell of her perfume, the feel of her hand through my hair.  Little things like that.  Sometimes . . . sometimes over the years, when things have been particularly awful, or even when they’ve been especially wonderful, I could sense her with me.  Smell her perfume or feel her hand on my shoulder.  I always shrugged it off, discounted it – assumed it was just my overactive imagination running away from me.”

She lifted tear-drenched eyes to his.  “And now . . . now I’m realizing that maybe she was really there.  All those times I needed her – she was actually there.  And I pushed her away!”

He took her into his arms as she broke, comforting her as she sobbed against his shirt.  When she quieted, he released her and brought her a handkerchief from his luggage.

She chuckled as she took it and wiped her eyes.  “You’re going to run out of these at this rate.”

He grinned at her.  Trust Virginia to bounce back quickly.  “I have extra.”

“I’m sorry,” she said with a sigh, sitting on a chair at the small table nearby.  “I seem to have turned into a watering pot during this mission.”

“Well,” he said calmly as he sat across from her.  “It’s not been an easy one for either of us.”

She glanced at him in surprise.  “Really?”

He looked away out the window for a moment before meeting her eyes once more.  “I do understand how you feel.  My mother died when I was twelve.  But there have been many times since then when I’ve felt her presence nearby.  I’ve never been able to explain it.  I certainly never told anyone about it.  At times, I suppose I even wondered if I was going crazy.  But even then, I never wanted it to stop happening.”

She laid her hand over his on the table.  “No.  It would be worse than anything if it stopped.”

After a while, she withdrew her hand and said, “I wonder if Margaret has felt her father’s presence this past year?”

“It may have alarmed her before she realized who it must have been.”

“She strikes me as pretty quick.  I don’t think it would have frightened her for long.”

“I hope you’re right,” he said.  “She certainly seems to have more of Craig than just his looks.”

“I know,” she said, turning to meet his eyes.  “Did you see that gizmo she has?  Pretty advanced tinkering, if you ask me.”

His wry smile appeared, catching at her heart.  “It’s what he did best.  And it seems as if she’s taken after him.  Those equations of hers!”

Virginia nodded.  “I know.  I only got a glimpse of them, but they looked way out there.  Theoretical physics was my strong point, but they seemed even beyond me from the little I saw.”

He went to the bed and returned with the notepad.  “Here.  Take a closer look.”

She accepted the pad and glanced at it.  Then at him.  “Are these right?”

One eyebrow rose sardonically.  “I’m known for my photographic memory.”

She pointed to one of the equations.  “This one.  How in the hell did she reach that conclusion?  And this one here.”  She tapped another one.  “I’ve never seen anything like this.  What on Earth is she designing?”

Straker leaned back in the chair contemplatively.  “It looked to me like some kind of communication device.”

“Yes.  It did to me, as well.  But – this!”  She gestured to the notepad.

He sat forward suddenly and said, “It would be interesting to find out who she’s trying to communicate with.”

Virginia grimaced.  “Well, I doubt very much if she’ll tell us.  She seems just a bit paranoid about it.”

“You noticed that too?”  He rubbed his chin for a brief moment, then met her eyes squarely.  “Maybe you should try talking to her friend.  He’d probably tell you his life story, if you give him the chance.”

She bit back a grin, pleased that he appreciated a few of her not-quite-respectable talents.  But then, he was known to be rather ruthless himself upon occasion.  “I don’t think that would work well in the long run, however.  She’s bound to find out that he talked.”

“Right.”  He stood up and stretched.  “Well.  There’s always Plan B.”

She was trying hard not to drool.  “Oh?  And what’s Plan B?”

He flashed her a grin.  “I’ll tell you at dinner.  I’m famished!”  He went to the bedside table and got a menu. “Hungry?”

“I could eat.”

He started to hand her the menu, but she waved it away.  “I’ll just have whatever you’re having,” she said.  In truth, being constantly in his presence was making her very hungry – but not for food.  She heard him speak to the concierge on the phone, ordering their dinner, but she didn’t pay attention to the words.  His voice had a richness to it that made her knees weak, and it would have shamed her if she wasn’t fully aware that nearly every other female he worked with reacted the same way.  She glanced back through the equations he’d written down, trying to focus once more on important things – things that wouldn’t get her into trouble.

After a few minutes, she grabbed his pen and began making notes.

Straker hung up the phone, but didn’t go back to the table.  Instead, he simply sat on the edge of the bed and watched her for a while.  He loved the intent look she got when she was working.  He often wondered what it would be like if she ever focused all that brilliance on him? 

Devastating, he supposed.  It would be absolutely devastating.

She glanced up just then and caught him watching.  Those goddess eyes of hers snared him without any difficulty at all, and he found it impossible to look away. 

She often equated the color of his eyes with the crystal clear skies of her childhood, high in the mountains where nothing could taint that blue.  She lost herself for a time in his gaze, but eventually came back to Earth when she got dizzy from holding her breath.  She blinked and looked down at the notepad, blushing and achingly aware of the silence in the room.  Why didn’t he say something?  Anything?

Then he did.

“I’ve been curious about something for some time now,” he said meditatively.

His voice was like a caress against her heated skin, and she had to swallow before she could respond.  “Oh?  What is that?”

He leaned forward, resting his hands on the coverlet.  “Would you have married him?  If none of what happened had happened – if everything had been fine – would you have?”

She shook her head.  “No.  Of course not.”

He frowned.  “Why not?”

She watched her fingers idly twirl his pen.  “Well, for many reasons.  First of all, he wouldn’t have asked me.”

He was so surprised by her answer that his jaw dropped.  “That’s – nonsense!  Of course, he would have!”

She met his eyes fleetingly, then looked back at the pen in her hands.  “No.  I don’t think so.  Maybe, if things had gone on the way they were heading, we might have become lovers.  But marriage?  I’m pretty sure the thought never crossed his mind.  It certainly didn’t cross mine.”

“I thought you were lovers.”

She grimaced.  “I think everyone assumed that.  After all, he was a known flirt, and I was a known ice queen.  If we were together, it had to be about sex, didn’t it?”

He leaned back against the headboard, his mind reeling.  “Then what was it about?”

She sighed.  “I told you.  He made me laugh.  And often, he made me think.  He had quite a keen mind behind that dashing face of his.  We used to argue higher planes of existence for hours.”

He found himself smiling.  “It was his favorite topic.”

She met his eyes and smiled sadly.  “Yes, it was.”

“What other reasons?”


He sat up.  “You said there were other reasons why you wouldn’t have gotten married.”

“Oh.”  She sighed and put down the pen, running a hand through her hair in a gesture so weary it made his throat close.  “See, I realized something today.  When Margaret told us when her mother died, I suddenly knew why Craig asked me out that first time.  I’d always wondered.  I mean, we’d worked together for years.  Why then and not before?  What made that day so special?”

“You think he knew that Cecilia had died?”

“Yes.  I think it wasn’t until he knew she was beyond his reach forever, beyond any hope of a reconciliation, that he even considered moving on.  And even then, he wasn’t ready yet for anything other than being friends.  He never stopped loving her.  I should have realized it, I suppose.  Men are usually all too ready to tell you about their exes.  More than you ever want to hear, in fact.  But Craig rarely said anything.  It was a dead giveaway, and I should have seen it.”

“Not necessarily,” he said quietly.

She frowned at him.  “Not necessarily what?”

He grimaced.  “Sometimes they don’t speak, because their marriage was such an unmitigated disaster that there really isn’t anything to say.  It might have been that way with him.”

Her heart skipped a beat.  Was he saying what it sounded like he was saying?  Was he finally – and for the first time ever – telling her something about his marriage?  “I – I guess so,” she said.  “There’s no way to know for certain now.”

“I suppose not,” he agreed, getting off the bed.  “But I’ll tell you what I do know.”

“What’s that?” she asked as he came over to where she sat.

“That for all his genius and charm, he was an utter fool.”

She gasped.  “Why – ?”

He leaned over her chair.  “Because he should have taken every moment he was with you to tell  you how special you were!  How much it meant to him just to have you around.  Your smiles.  Your laughter.  Your brilliant mind.  Instead, he wasted his time!  All of it!”  He ran his hands across her cheeks and into her hair, bringing her to her feet and up against his hard body.  His eyes burned like blue fire, searing all the way to her soul.  “He was a fool!” he muttered fiercely.

And kissed her.

She couldn’t have moved if her life depended on it.  She felt as if a lightning bolt had struck, blasting her apart at an atomic level and leaving only a shimmering awareness where she’d been.  Then the kiss deepened, and she moaned, finding out that she could move after all.  Her hands gripped his strong shoulders for support, then plunged into his luxurious hair.  Her body molded to his as though it had been made for it.  And all the while, he devoured her with his lips while his hands caressed her scalp.

When he finally drew back and looked at her, she slowly opened her eyes and smiled.  “Ed,” she sighed.

His breath – uneven to begin with – caught in his throat.  He nipped at her lips.  “Say that again,” he urged.

“What?” she asked, bombarded by a torrent of wild kisses.

“My name,” he murmured, racing his lips along her jawline.  “Say my name.”

“Ed,” she said obediently, somewhat bewildered. 

He groaned and attacked her throat.  “Again!”

“I’ve said it before,” she told him breathlessly, drowning in sensation.

“No,” he argued, giving in to the need to bite her earlobe.  “Not to me.”

“Oh!” she sighed, too dizzy to care.  “Well, maybe you’re right.”

“I know I am.”  His wicked grin flashed just before he took her mouth again.  This time his hands raced down her body, molding it to him even closer than before.  He groaned again, certain that if he didn’t get her naked soon, he would explode into fragments so small that they would never be found.

There was a knock at the door, then a voice calling, “Room service.”  Straker stared at her for an endless moment, torn between the demands of the moment and the demands of the outside world.  Then the knock came again, and he sighed, letting her go.  He went to the door, but had to stop and run a shaky hand through his hair before answering.

The waiter’s practiced smile slipped some when he entered the room.  It wouldn’t have taken a very high IQ to tell that he’d interrupted something, the tension was so thick.  He turned red and quickly took the covers off the trays on his cart, then backed out of the room, barely glancing at his tip before the door was shut in his face.

Straker stood at the door and met her grey eyes over the cart of food.  In their depths he glimpsed whirling storms of emotion.  She’d barely moved the entire time the boy had been in the room, and was still standing across the room next to the table. She hadn’t even smoothed her hair.  He thought she looked glorious, like some elemental creature far more powerful than any mere mortal could handle.  And he knew – because after all these years working with her, he was aware of every change of her moods – that the moment for action had passed.  With a soft sigh for what might have been, he lifted a tray for her inspection.

“Shall we?” he said.

The sky is not the limit; nor are the stars.
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Re: Fallen Heroes
Reply #6 - Mar 29th, 2011 at 3:05am
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Chapter 7

Sometimes, having a brain was overrated.

Virginia brought the coffee pot from her room and poured them both some of her special Columbian blend while he served up their food and set the plates at the table.  All the while, her body still sang with nerve endings that refused to calm down, and her mind – !  Damn her mind anyway for interfering when her most secret fantasy was in the very moment of being carried out!

But once his strong arms had no longer been around her, once his fiery lips had ceased their bombardment of her senses, her treacherous mind had kicked back in and asked her what the hell she was doing?  He was her commanding officer, after all!  She had to be able to work with him – had to be able to function as an important part of his senior staff.  How could she do that if she was all tangled up in him?  She’d be useless, and she knew it.

And once his blood had cooled and he could look at the situation objectively, she knew he would know it too.  And that was simply not an option.

But oh!  It would have been fabulous to forget about thinking for a while!

They spoke little while setting the table, both of them so used to working as a team that words were unnecessary.  But once they were seated and began eating, Virginia glanced at him.  He seemed completely at ease as he ate, almost as if nothing had ever happened between them.  But his hair – still mussed from her hands – was evidence that something had occurred.  And she was suddenly reminded once more of how good he was at hiding his true feelings.  Because she hadn’t dreamed that moment.  It had been very real.  And very potent.

She forked up a bite of her salad and said, “So.  What’s Plan B?”

He met her eyes fleetingly before sitting back with his cup and smiling blandly.  “Ah, well.  That’s the plan where we wait until dark and sneak back into her house to check out her lab.”

His voice was admirably modulated, tone and pitch perfectly smooth.  His eyes were bland, and just a hint of recklessness hovered about his mouth.  But she noticed that his lean fingers gripped the handle of his cup much more tightly than normal – and suddenly she felt quite calm.  “What if she’s home?”

He shrugged.  “We’ll wait until she leaves.  She had a lot dropped into her lap today, and it’s  doubtful that she’ll be able to sit still while she processes it.  She’s young.  She’ll need to get out and do something.”

“You’re probably right about that.”

They ate in silence for a time.  Then she looked his way from the corner of her eye as she sipped her coffee.  “I’m sorry I never called you Ed before.”

His fork froze halfway to his mouth, and his startled gaze met hers for a timeless moment.  Then he relaxed and set his fork down, reaching for his coffee.  “So you should be,” he said as blandly as he could.

“It’s your own fault, you know,” she continued coolly.  “Since you never once called me by mine.”

His head tilted slightly as he gazed at her.  “Did that rankle?”

Her lips thinned.  “Of course, it did!  What did you expect?  You call everyone – everyone! – by their first name.  Except me!”

His lips twitched at her fury, but his eyes stayed on hers.  “I needed the distance.”

He said it so calmly it took a moment before she realized what he said.  Her anger died, her heart melted, and she said softly, “Did you?”

Straker nodded, picking up a breadstick.  “And you’re not quite accurate, by the way.”

Her brows drew together.  “About what?”

“I have called you by your first name.”

“No, you haven’t.”

He only smiled and bit into the breadstick.

She huffed.  “I would have remembered, I assure you, if you had ever – in any set of circumstances – called me by my first name.”

He took a sip of his coffee, then smiled at her over the rim.  “Twice.”

“You’re lying.”

His brow rose arrogantly.  “Excuse me?”

She put down her cup with a snap.  “Look.  Once?  Okay.  Not plausible, but at least possible, that it could have slipped by me.  But twice?  Not a chance.”

He broke his breadstick in half, still smiling slightly.

She ignored him and went on eating.  But finally she couldn’t take it any longer and said tartly, “Fine.  When?”

His maddening smile dimmed as he said, “That day a few years ago, when we found that hallucinogenic rock.”

She frowned, thinking back.  “When you tore up the Control room?”

“Yes.  Before that, actually.”  He paused and looked at her closely, not sure he should remind her of it.  But she merely looked perplexed, so he added, “With Beaver.”

“Oh.  Beaver.”  It all rushed back to her then.  The gun against her head.  Being pulled along the corridor by a powerful arm around her neck.  Poor Beaver, certain that she was somehow an alien who had gotten loose in HQ.  That they were all aliens.  And Straker, as calm as always – if you didn’t look in his eyes.  The awful pain there of knowing what had to be done – to Beaver, of all people!

She swallowed and said, “I’ve relived that moment a thousand times.  I’d have remembered if you’d done anything as unusual as saying my name.”

He sighed.  “It wasn’t planned.  It just slipped out.  I was terrified that he would kill you right in front of me!  I told you to get down.”

“Yes.  I remember.”  She thought about it, letting her mind take her back to that moment.  The fear, the bewilderment.  And her commander’s blue eyes staring into hers.  Telling her to dive.  Virginia, when I give the word, dive!

She looked at him in shock.  “You did!  You did say my name.”  She shook her head in consternation.  “Why didn’t I remember that?  As many times as I’ve thought about what happened, why didn’t I recall that?”

“Well, you were just a bit distracted at the time.”

“Yes, but later!  You’d think I would remember something that monumental later on, wouldn’t you?”

His wry smile briefly flashed across his face.  “Was it so monumental, Virginia?”

She flushed.  “You know it was.”  Then her eyes flew to his.  “Damn it, Ed!  I suppose you’re going to say that’s the second time?”

A fugitive twinkle lit his blue eyes as he shook his head.  “Not at all.  The second time was onboard the jet coming here.”

She gaped at him.  Furiously she tried to recall everything they’d said to each other during the long flight to the US.  She wanted to hotly deny that he’d done any such thing, but after being proven wrong once, she didn’t dare.  How could her mind have bypassed such an important event as him calling her by name?  “When?” she whispered.

“When you said you felt disloyal for still loving Craig, even after everything that happened.  I told you . . .”

“. . . that was how he deserved to be remembered.”  Her grey eyes met his, full of emotion.  “And you touched my hand.”  After a long moment of silence, she looked away and picked up her cup.  Her throat felt very dry all of a sudden.  “Well,” she said finally.  “I’m just going to have to pay better attention in the future.”

“You do that.”

Suddenly she pushed aside her plate and gave him a steady look.  “This is insane.  You know that, right?”

He leaned back in his chair, holding her gaze easily.  “Oh, yes.  I’m quite aware of the insanity factor.”

“Then?” she asked, sure that there was more.

He sighed and sat forward, folding his hands on the tabletop.  “Virginia, I’ve been in love with you since the day we met.  I’ve always known that sooner or later, I would be forced to deal with that.  It certainly wasn’t something that was going to go away if I just ignored it.”

She gasped.  “You can’t have!  You were utterly putrid to me that day – badgering me with questions until I thought my brain would melt!”

He shrugged, but his lips twitched.  “I enjoyed hearing how your mind worked.  I didn’t want the conversation to end.”

She shook her head in utter disbelief.  “You drove me crazy!”

“Good,” he said with satisfaction.  “You were driving me crazy just by being in the same room.  It was the least I could do to return the favor.”

Her goddess eyes narrowed, smoky fire just visible within.  “Do you want to see crazy?”

He smiled blandly, but his heart kicked into overdrive.  “By all means.”

She leapt into his lap and took his mouth in a searing kiss.

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Re: Fallen Heroes
Reply #7 - Mar 30th, 2011 at 5:38pm
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Chapter 8

“I hated you on sight, you know,” she said softly as he ran his fingers through her hair.

Those fingers stopped moving for a moment, then went back to caressing her.  “I’m glad you changed your mind,” he said blandly.

She grinned as she played with the hair on his chest, but didn’t say anything.

After a moment, he said in an entirely different tone, “You did change your mind, didn’t you?”

Virginia chuckled, meeting his concerned eyes.  “Maybe,” she said saucily.

A relieved grin crossed his face.  “Because I asked so many questions?”

“No.  That only cemented what I was already feeling.”

He frowned.  “What did I do?”

She grinned.  “Nothing.  It wasn’t what you did; it was who you were.”

He looked perplexed.  “The commander?”

Virginia snickered.  “No.  Mr. Perfect.”

“Oh, come on!”

“Seriously.  You looked like a god.  Powerful.  Perfect.  Beautiful.”  She thought a minute, then said, “I’d never met a beautiful man before.  Men are handsome or ugly, rugged or cute.  They’re not usually so beautiful that you almost drool.”

He shifted slightly on the bed in embarrassment.  “You’ve been reading my press releases.”

She shook her head, still grinning.  It intrigued her to see him put out of countenance by a compliment.  “It took me months before I’d admit that what I really hated about you was that you were never going to look at someone like me.  You were too far out of my league for that.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

She raised her brows.  “Is it?”

“Well – !” he said, then stopped.  After a moment he said, running his finger from her shoulder to her elbow, “Actually, that’s pretty much how I thought of you that first day.  Like a goddess on a pedestal, so far out of my reach that I had absolutely no chance.  You intimidated the hell out of me.”

She leaned forward and kissed him.  Who was she to argue with his interpretation of events?  “Do I still?” she asked with a sly smile.

He grinned, pulling her close for another kiss.  “Sometimes.”


She was looking far too smug, so he swiftly reversed their positions and rested on his elbows to look into her eyes.  “Do I still intimidate you?”

Her lips spread into a warm smile.  “Upon occasion.”

“You know I’m not a god now.  If you hadn’t already figured it out these past years, you have to know it now.  I’ve surely fallen off that pedestal after today.”

“Not necessarily.”

One arrogant brow rose.  “Weren’t you paying attention?  I think I’ve proven that I’m just a man.”

“Ed,” she sighed.  “You could never be just a man.  You’re certainly more man than any I’ve ever known.  No one’s ever treated me like you do.  So I wouldn’t throw away that pedestal yet if I were you.  Godhood’s still in the running.”

“Well,” he said, nipping lightly at her chin.  “If it comes to that, you’ve definitely proven your goddess standing.  I saw stars.” 

She was surprised into a laugh.  “Well, then,” she said, putting her arms around his neck.  “Recognize any of them?”

“I’m not sure,” he answered, a wicked light in his eyes.  “Maybe I should check again.”

He swallowed her chuckle with his kiss, and was just pressing her closer when his phone rang.  He sat up with a sigh and reached for it on the nightstand, but said before he answered it, “We do seem to have some problems with our timing.”

He looked so melancholy that she had to muffle her laughter with her hand.  A moment later, all thought of laughter vanished as she realized who was on the other end.  His eyes met hers while he listened to the voice on the phone, and she read the message clearly.  Hopping out of his bed, she gathered her scattered clothes and ran to the bathroom in her room to freshen up and get dressed.

Minutes later, when she returned to his room, he was slipping on his jacket.  “Trouble?” she asked, fairly sure of the answer.

“Is there any doubt?” he said, his lips a thin line.  “We lost track of a UFO after it shot down one of the skyjets.”

“Is the pilot – ?”

He nodded, picking up his keys from the nightstand.  “Yes.  Waterman was able to eject.  He’s fine.  That’s not the problem.  Alec says that Lew managed to hit it, but I doubt very much if that was enough to stop it.  Guess where it was headed?”

She whitened.  “Margaret!  Dear God!”

“Let’s go,” he said and led the way out of the room.

* * *
“That device of hers,” Virginia said, holding onto the handle of the car door as he took a corner without slowing.  “What was she thinking to court such disaster?”

“It wouldn’t have taken thought,” he said grimly.  “All it would take is curiosity, and she wouldn’t be Craig’s daughter without her fair share of that.”

They had to slow once they got to the street where Margaret lived.  There were too many people in the road to navigate past them.  Straker pulled over and parked, and they got out.  It looked like a war zone.  People in various stages of undress wandered the area, having come outside to see what was going on.  Debris was everywhere, scattered on several lawns and rooftops, and smoke filled the air.  But closer to, they could see clearly enough to tell that the UFO had done its job well.  It must have decided that weapons fire was not enough to do what it wanted, because it had done a kamikaze run into the house itself. 

The explosion must have been quite powerful, because nothing remained at the point of contact – certainly not enough debris to tell that this had been a UFO attack.  There was only a scarred foundation covered with grey dust and a few spewing water pipes.  As they stood there, too dismayed to speak, emergency vehicles pulled up and got the crowd to move back.

He took her arm and walked back to the car, leaving the scene as unobtrusively as they could.  He didn’t say anything until they were back at the hotel, for which she was grateful.  From the expression on his face during the drive, she was pretty sure anything that would have come out of his mouth would have seared the air.

She brewed fresh coffee while he spoke to Alec, setting a cup in front of him where he sat at the small table, his head practically in his hands.  He met her eyes for a brief moment with a silent thank you, then went back to his instructions over the phone.

“Right.  I don’t think we’ll have too much trouble with the gas main story, but the clean-up crews will want to make sure all the larger pieces of debris are recovered, just in case.”  He drank the coffee in one gulp, and Virginia refilled his cup before he had the chance to ask her.  She poured a cup for herself, then sat across from him at the table and stared out the window at the night sky while he finished up his call.  She knew from long experience working with him that taking care of the details in the aftermath of such destruction was his way of establishing some sense of order in a situation full of chaos and death.  She wished she could cry.  Maybe this horrid numbness would fade if she could shed some tears for Craig’s daughter and her quirky boyfriend.  But her throat was locked shut, and nothing would come.


She realized he was talking to her and turned to meet his eyes.  He reached over and took her hand in his.  “I’m sorry.  I’m so very sorry.  I should have known what that device was for.  Should have realized the kind of danger she was in.”

“No, Ed!”  Her fingers gripped his tightly.  “You couldn’t have known.  Neither of us could have seen what she was doing.  The equations were just too complex.  We just couldn’t tell.  And we didn’t have enough time to establish the trust needed to get her to open up to us.”

He shook his head, utter weariness apparent in his face.  “I let him down.  He came to me to save her, and I didn’t.”

“You tried!”  She couldn’t bear to see him taking all the burden on his shoulders like this.  “You did an incredible job even figuring out what he wanted!  Ed, most men would have set it aside and figured they’d just had a strange dream.  They wouldn’t have come all this way, taking the time and resources necessary to follow it through.  You did what you could.  More than most people would.  Craig knows that.  He won’t blame you for doing everything you could.”

The eyes that met hers were tortured.  “But I couldn’t save her.  I was too late.  Somehow I’m always too late.”  His voice cracked on the last word, and he did something Virginia would have never imagined he would do.  He laid his head on his arms and wept.

She kept hold of his hand, aware on a subliminal level that only that contact was keeping him grounded.  And finally, the tears were released from her own eyes, silently tracking down her cheeks as she shared his grief.  She wasn’t sure if she was crying for him, for Margaret, or for all the useless pain in the world.  But she knew one thing: it felt good to let it out.

When the phone rang, she almost ignored it.  Then she realized that it wasn’t his cell phone.  It was the room phone.  His head raised, and he met her eyes in surprise.  And hurriedly she pushed back her chair and ran to answer it.


“Uh, hi,” a shaky voice said.  “You might not remember me, but I met you at Mags’ house today.  I’m Corky.”

Virginia turned to meet the commander’s eyes, hope shining in hers.  “I remember you , Corky.  How can we help you?”

He gave a huge sigh that came clearly through the phone line.  “Well, something’s happened, and I think we’re in a lot of trouble.  Is Mr. Straker still willing to help Mags?”

“Yes!” she said, gripping the phone tighter.  “Is she okay?  Is she with you?”

“Yeah,” he replied, and Virginia grabbed Straker’s hand as he came over to her, smiling through her tears.  Corky continued in her ear.  “But it’s really bogus, because some nasty dudes crashed into her house.”

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Re: Fallen Heroes
Reply #8 - Mar 31st, 2011 at 3:15am
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Chapter 9

Margaret was furious.  She was also terrified down to her surplus store army boots, but the rage felt better.  So she concentrated on that.  She sat in Mr. Straker’s hotel room at a small table with her arms folded across her chest and glared at everything around her.

“Can you tell us what happened?” asked Straker calmly once they were all seated around the table.

“Yeah, sure,” said Corky.  “Some insane guy took out Mags’ house.”

“Yes.  We . . . saw the damage,” Straker said with a glance at Virginia.

She said, “We were concerned that you might have been inside when it happened.  We’re so glad that you weren’t.”

“Yeah.  Me, too,” said Corky.  “We were still in the car when it hit, on our way back from the arcade.  I’d talked Mags into playing some Space Invaders.”  He sent a grin toward Margaret, and she found herself responding to it in spite of her anger.

“I trounced you,” she said.

He shrugged, his grin widening.  “You always do.”  He turned back to the older people at the table and said, “Then out of nowhere this flaming ball streaks across the sky and hits the house.  Bam!  And it’s toast.  Pieces flying everywhere.  It was like some crazy guided missile.”

“Why would a missile strike Margaret’s house?” Straker asked.

“No, it wasn’t,” answered Corky, leaning forward eagerly.  “It was a ship.  We could tell that much.”  He shook his head in confusion.  “But I can’t figure anyone whacked out enough to crash right into a house.  I mean, who would do something that insane?”

“I think a more important question would be why?”

“No, we know why,” Corky said with a dismissing wave of his hand.  “It’s because we used the tweegee.”

Margaret kicked his chair, making him jump.  His eyes flew to hers, and he gulped when he realized she was glaring at him.  He turned beet red and shut up, sending Straker a sheepish look.

Straker and Virginia exchanged glances, then she stood up and said, “Would you like some coffee?”

Virginia got them each a cup and brought them to the table.  The coffee smelled great, and Margaret realized suddenly how hungry she was.  She almost asked if they had anything to eat, but Corky spoke first.  “Got any cream?”

“Of course.”  Virginia got him a dish of the tiny containers from the room’s small refrigerator, and he stirred two of them in his coffee.

“Thanks,” he said and flashed her a big smile.  “Got any sugar?”

Margaret rolled her eyes.  “Corky!”

“What?” he asked in surprise.

Virginia gave them both a warm smile.  “I don’t mind, Margaret,” she said and brought the dish of packets over from where it sat next to the coffeepot.  Then she watched in astonishment as the boy proceeded to pour six of the packets into his coffee.  She glanced at Margaret only to find the girl smiling for the first time since entering the hotel room.

“He’s an idiot,” Margaret told her fondly.

Corky seemed to accept this as his due and put down his spoon to drink his coffee.  Then he said, “Hey!  This is good.”  He took another sip.  “Really good.”

“Twit,” Margaret told him, then sighed and abandoned her angry pose.  She looked at the two older people and said, “You saw the TWG when you came by earlier.  It was the device that Corky had when he came out of our lab and joined us in the living room.”

“What does it do?” asked Straker.

The girl heaved a heavy sigh.  “It didn’t work right.  Well, it didn’t work at all until Corky realigned the capacitors, but once it started working, it didn’t do what it was supposed to do.  All we got from it was some really odd gibberish.”

“What did it sound like?”

She shrugged.  “It sounded mechanical, like computer algorithms or something.  We couldn’t make heads or tails of it, so we finally shut it down and went to get a meal and play some video games.”  She met Straker’s eyes across the table.  “But somebody obviously didn’t like having their computer tapped into.  Although they could have just come and confiscated it.  They didn’t need to destroy my parents’ house.”

“Was the unit in the house when it was destroyed?”

“Yeah,” she said dispiritedly.  “So I guess they stopped me, didn’t they?  I don’t even have my equations anymore.  They were in the notebook in the lab.”

“Uh, Mags?” said Corky hesitantly.

She glanced at him and said, “What?”

He looked sheepish again.  “I sorta took the page with your equations on it out of the notebook.”

What?" she said, utterly shocked.

He shrugged and hunched his shoulders.  “I wanted to keep Mr. Straker’s autograph.  I wasn’t going to do anything to the page or anything.  I just wanted to keep it on me in case we ran into anyone we knew.  They would never have believed me if I didn’t have the proof with me, you know.”

She stared at him for a full ten seconds, then kissed him right on the mouth.

Straker exchanged a wry look with Virginia, who had to struggle to keep from laughing.

Corky emerged from Margaret’s embrace and grinned stupidly at them, his face beet red.

“My hero,” Margaret said, ruffling his hair before sitting back in her chair.

Straker decided not to mention the fact that he had his own copy of her equations.  Corky deserved his moment to shine.  God knew, when dealing with a strong woman, a man needed every advantage he could get.

Margaret looked at the man across the table.  “What now, Mr. Straker?”

“I think the first thing would be to get you and Corky rooms here at the hotel for the night.  Morning’s soon enough to discuss your future.”

She took Corky’s hand.  “You make it sound like I have a future.”

He smiled his rare warm smile.  “Of course, you do, Miss Monroe.  If you want it.”

Margaret studied his face for a long moment, then sighed.  “You’re right.  Morning’s soon enough.  Thank you, Mr. Straker.  Thank you both.”  Suddenly she stopped and said to Virginia, “You’re not wearing a ring.”

Virginia blinked.  “No.  I don’t usually wear them.  I work a lot with my hands, and rings get in the way.”

“Oh, but I thought – !”


Margaret looked from Virginia to Straker and back again.  “I thought you were married.”

Virginia blushed and didn’t know where to look.  But her commander came to her rescue, coming over and laying a hand on her shoulder.  “Well,” he said calmly.  “We’ve worked together so long, some days it feels like we are.”  Then he said briskly, “Come with me, Miss Monroe, and we’ll get you those rooms.”

* * *
“That is so wild!” said Corky when Straker explained just whose equipment they had tapped into with their device.  The young man turned to Margaret, who was seated next to him in the jet, and said, “I guess the space invaders got you back for all those wins – huh, Mags?”

She chuckled, but sobered after a minute and asked the commander, “So, you think the TWG can help you fight them?”

“I do,” he said firmly.  “Understanding how their computers work will go a long way toward assisting us in this war.  Once we unlock their algorithms, we’ll be that much closer to jamming their equipment and stopping their incursions altogether.”

“Well, I’m all for that,” she agreed darkly, remembering how her house had looked after it exploded.

“I’m curious about something,” Virginia said.  “What were you hoping the device would do when you created it?”

Margaret sighed, and Corky took her hand.  She smiled at him, then looked at the colonel.  “It’s silly, I guess, in light of everything it did do.  But I was trying to communicate with people on another plane of existence.”

“Excuse me?” asked Straker, astonished by her words.

She shrugged.  “You know – ghosts.”

Corky grinned.  “That’s why we named it the tweegee.  TWG stands for Talking with Ghosts.”

The commander looked stunned and incapable of speech, so Virginia laid a reassuring hand on his arm and said, “Did you see a ghost, Margaret?”

She lifted a shoulder in a way that reminded Virginia very much of Craig.  “Not exactly,” the girl admitted.  “It wasn’t really anything that concrete.  But I’ve felt a few things over the past year that were hard to explain and made me wonder.  And I figured if I could talk to them, maybe I could find out what they wanted.”

“I can tell you what he wanted,” Straker said, finding his voice.  “He wanted you to be safe.”

She raised her painted brows.  “And how would you know that?”

He smiled calmly at her.  “He told me.”

The sky is not the limit; nor are the stars.
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Straker, somehow it's
always about you.

Posts: 990
Location: Fulton, MO
Re: Fallen Heroes
Reply #9 - Mar 31st, 2011 at 3:20am
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It was mid-morning the next day before Col. Lake entered his HQ office to turn in her report on the mission.  The commander accepted it from her with a brief thanks, then sat back in his chair and said, “And how are SHADO’s newest recruits making out?”

She grinned.  “I think they’ll do quite well actually.  Before handing them over to Dr. Jackson, I gave them a tour of our Research and Development labs.”

He had to admire her methods.  “And how did that go over?”

“Well, Corky was certain that he could endure the torments of hell if it meant he ended up with his own lab.  Margaret was not quite as confident, but she definitely looked excited at the prospect of working with R & D.”

“Good.  I’ve already spoken to Jackson about the need to rush them through as quickly as possible.  The sooner we get her device rebuilt and working again, the sooner we can turn things around for our side in this war.”

“It’s odd,” she said softly.  “If Craig hadn’t been so worried about his daughter that he overcame the barrier of death itself in an effort to get her the protection she needed, we never would have known about that device.”

“You’re probably right.”

Her grey eyes met his for a moment, and he saw the sheen of tears in them.  “I just wonder if he knew.  If he somehow was aware that by sending you to help her, we’d finally be able to fight back against our enemy with the hope of actually winning.”

“We have no way of knowing for certain, Colonel.  Perhaps if Margaret someday does find a way to communicate with those on a higher plane of existence, we can ask him about it.  Until then, I like to think this was his way of getting a little revenge on the aliens for all they stole from him.”

She smiled, blinking back her tears.  “I like the sound of that.”  After a moment, she said, “Well, I’d better get to work.  I wonder what they’ve done to the computers while I was gone?  They’re probably a mess.”

As she turned to leave, he said quietly, “Virginia.  Would you have dinner with me tonight?”

She looked at him – her commander, her hero, her lover, her friend – and said, “Yes, Ed.  I’d love to.”

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