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I spent most of my life trying to stay out of any entangling commitments.  I was footloose and fancy free and I liked it.  I volunteered for the military so I could kill Shang.  I didn’t see it as signing up for the military.  Or any kind of oath or anything else like that.  The Shang had ended my world and I wanted to end all of theirs.  It turns out that not everybody has goals that simple.  And some people want a greater level of commitment from the people they work with.  Betty is one example.  There are others like her.





Jack flexed his fingers, breathed in deeply, and scanned the displays again.  Most of the fleet’s ships drifted in space, venting atmosphere from deep gashes through their armor.  Nearly half their fighters were just gone, and one of Holly’s pilots hadn’t survived.  A quick check showed all his Cowboys still lived though.  That was one good thing.

But the Shang had been sneaky today.  Again.  They just never stopped looking for new ways to kill him.

“How are we?” Jack asked as he continued to scan the displays.

“We can fly,” Betty answered and then waved one hand at another display.

The Shang fleet came back into view on the display as new sensor platforms spread out beyond the field of debris surrounding them and Jack grunted in approval.  Less than half the Shang fleet still moved under power, and atmosphere poured from almost all their smashed hulls.  Gravity flowed around the ones who still had power, accelerating them out and away from the remains of his little fleet while leaving their wounded fellows behind.  That was good.  Los Angeles and company would never survive another fight like that in their present state.

Then Betty waved up at the canopy where Thunderer and her escorts accelerated past their position.  It was a zoomed in view of course.  They were too far away to see with the mark one eyeball, but the canopy made them look real good as they sailed by on plumes of blue fusion flame.  The slingshot maneuver swung them through New Earth’s gravity well in a move designed to catch any damaged Shang lagging behind the main formation.  And that explained why the Shang weren’t sticking around.  Los Angeles might not be able to fight them now, but the remains of the Shang force were no match for an honest-to-God battleship.  Thank God for small favors.  Not that he could let anybody think he’d needed that much help.

“Open frequencies,” he ordered.

Betty gave him a sly smile and nodded.  She knew what was coming.

“This is Captain Jack of Hart Squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Wing 112, the Cowboys,” Jack said in his cockiest tone of voice.  “And we just kicked your ass.”

“Oorah!” Ken and Katy shouted over the radiowaves and Jack chuckled.  They couldn’t miss a chance to push their reputation as boorish American Cowboys after all.

“Feel free to come back any time you want another beating,” Jack added with a totally disrespectful salute and a wink.  “We’ll be waiting for yah.”

Then he leaned back and watched Thunderer and her fleet continue to chase the Shang away with a stream of missiles and gravitic cannons.  The Shang kept running.  And for a moment, all was right in the universe.

“So, the good news is that the Shang are running,” Jack said with an approving smile.  “Who’s got more good news for me?”

The cybers looked back and forth at each other on the console for a second before Holly answered.  “The fleet has enough power and maneuvering capability if we work together to achieve a stable orbit over New Earth before we bounce off the atmosphere.”

Jack nodded and gave her a thumbs up.  “That is very good news.  Any more good news?”

The Gabrielle in white piped up next.  “The Pennsylvania embassy has charged us with piracy and destruction of national assets.  They want everybody involved arrested and held for trial.”

Jack frowned and considered that for several seconds.  Then he cocked his head to the side and narrowed his eyes at her.  “I fail to see how that is good news.”

Gabrielle smiled and many of the destroyers and frigates surrounding Thunderer flashed on his displays.  “The good news is that the Pennsylvania ships who’ve been shadowing us since Serenity aren’t in a position to execute that order.  They took a lot of damage defending Thunderer.

That was a sobering thought.  Jack wasn’t sure he wanted to think it was good news that any Alliance ships and crews had been hurt.  But those Pennsylvania Star Fleet types had been more enemy than friend of late.  Still, they’d answered the call to defend Alpha Centauri.  Not that they had much choice he figured.  He frowned and then nodded.  “Okay.  On further reflection, I think I accept your definition of good news.”

Then Jack looked around.  He narrowed his eyes at the sight of Hollywood’s wounded flank.  An idea began to form and he smiled.  “Holly?”

“Yeah?” the Japanese surfer girl asked with a suspicious look.  She could tell he was thinking about something.

“Me and you belong to Aneerin’s fleet.  That makes us the closest things to neutral parties there are in this little disagreement, yes?”

Holly cocked her head back and forth and the doubt showed clearly.  “We are in no way neutral in this.”

Jack scowled at her.  Then he brought up one hand and motioned for her to come closer.  She looked at her fellow cybers for a moment before floating across the empty space between them and stepping onto his shoulder.  He leaned in close to her twenty-centimeter form and whispered in a conspiratorial tone.  “Aneerin asked me to protect Olivia.  Are you willing to help me?”

Holly frowned at him for what seemed like an eternity.  Then she grunted.  “Fine.  What do you want of me?”

Jack’s eyebrows rose as a few ideas came to mind.  Holly’s gaze turned very sharp as she recognized his wondering mind and she cleared her throat in a vaguely threatening way.  At which time he decided he probably shouldn’t put voice to them right now and nodded towards Gabrielle.  “Get them over to Hollywood.  We can keep them safe from arrest or whatever until cooler heads prevail.”

Holly just raised one eyebrow.  “Cooler heads?  You really think that will happen?”

Jack smiled and shrugged.  “Hope springs eternal.”

Holly pursed her lips and then looked around towards the other cybers.  They performed all the nonverbal clues that showed they were talking to each other much faster than mere words allowed.  One cocked her head to the side.  Another placed a hand on her hip.  Another shrugged.  They each did something a little different, but appeared for all the worlds as just a normal group of young ladies talking to each other.  And then Holly turned back to him with a nod.

“We concur with your idea.  It has a reasonable chance of success.”

Jack frowned as a thought came to mind.  “And Olivia?”

Gabrielle sighed.  “She is…not convinced.”

“Need some help?” Jack asked with a wide smile.  “I’m always happy to help.”

“No,” Gabrielle said with a vigorous shake of her head.  “I’ve got this covered.”

Jack frowned.  “What’s she saying?”

“Not repeatable in polite company,” Gabrielle said with a wince.

“Oh.”  Then Jack smiled as a new thought came to mind.  “That is so sweet.”

Gabrielle gave him a confused look.  “What?”

“You think I’m polite company now,” Jack said with his best innocent look.

Gabrielle sighed and rolled her eyes.  “Don’t let it go to your head.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”  Jack waggled his eyebrows at Betty.  She rolled her eyes back at him.

“I’ll get her out.  You cover us?” Gabrielle requested.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Jack said and turned back to business.  “Cat.  Crane.  Form up on Los Angeles.  We have friends to protect.”

“All over it, Boss,” Katy acknowledge with a sly look.

“Got it, Boss,” Ken said with just a slight hint of beach lazy in his tone.

Jack grasped the stick and swung the Avenger around to accelerate towards Los Angeles.  The Cowboys accelerated with him and he smiled as they navigated through the wreckage.  He let out a long breath as Los Angeles came into view and he saw her with his own eyes for the first time since before the battle.  Half her armored wedge was just gone.  It looked like one of her gravitic cannons had overloaded and ripped that entire part of the wedge off.  Two of her engines pods were reduced to sparking struts and the other two were so damaged he didn’t know if they would work at all.  Torn and shattered armor plating hung off her flanks like weary battle flags.  He’d never seen the poor girl looking so bad.

He pulled the Avenger to a stop and saw New Earth through the massive, airless hangar bay.  The hatches had been blown free of the ship by a powerful explosion that had also disabled her atmospheric energy screens.  The ruins of Olivia’s shuttle lay scattered against the bulkheads.  Scars and scorch marks marred the heavily armored Marine craft but diagnostic indicators said everyone was alive and fully operational.  Then their craft rose off the deck and shot out of the hangar as he watched.

“Olivia is under Marine protection,” Gabrielle reported on his console and Jack nodded.

“Stay on the Marines, Cowboys,” Jack ordered and brought his Avenger around to follow.  The other Cowboys acknowledged and slipped into formation as they accelerated towards Hollywood.

Jack scanned the displays and looked up through the canopy as they passed by smashed frigates and crippled destroyers.  Not one ship had escaped the battle unmauled and it was all his fault.  He’d underestimated the Shang and everyone who listened to him had paid the price.

“Hey, Boss,” Ken said from a display and Jack turned.


“We’re going to need to keep a patrol up and running out here until the Shang are gone.”


“I suggest we leave Cat in charge.”

Jack pursed his lips in thought.  It was a good idea.  Then he looked out as they slowed to match course and speed with Hollywood.  The Marine craft continued in to the open hangar and Jack scanned the ship for a moment.  She’d taken far less damage than Los Angeles, but large wounds still showed in her flanks and armored wedge.  At least they hadn’t blown clean through.  And her hangar’s atmospheric screens still worked.

“Cat?” Jack asked.

“Yeah, Boss?” Katy returned.

“You’re in command out here.”

“Ah, and here I wanted to see Hollywood,” Katy said with a pointed look.

“I’m sure there’ll be time for that,” Jack said with a chuckle.  Then he sobered.  “We’re not pulling out of this soon, that’s for certain.”

“Roger that one, Boss,” Katy acknowledged and pulled her Avengers out of formation to surround the warship.  “I’ll cover her for now.  You do the diplomatic work first.”

“Right,” Jack muttered with a scowl.  She just had to remind him of how tricky this was going to be.  Then he nodded towards Betty and the other Avengers followed Katy, leaving Jack and Ken’s fighters alone as they drifted towards Hollywood.

“Let’s go in,” Jack ordered and the two Avengers slipped into the hangar.  Their noses hit the atmospheric screen first, piercing the force field and causing a brief blast of crystallizing air to escape around them.  But the force field reformed in contact with the fighters’ hulls as they moved further in.  More crystals glinted in the twin sunslight of Alpha Centauri as engines and wings pierced the screen, and then the screen shimmered behind them as the fighters fully entered the hangar.  They spun, found empty places on the deck, and came down for a landing.

Ken jumped out of his Avenger first and Jack followed.  Jack hit the deck and took a good look at the heavy cruiser’s interior.  That was when he froze.  The ship had cartoons printed on her bulkheads.  Everything from Hello Bunny to something that looked like a cuddly version of Godzilla.  Jack looked closer and saw the fluffy white little bunny happily warning people to stay away from the “big badda boom” that was a bunker full of missiles.

Jack shook his head in disbelief and saw Ken smiling at him.

“How do you like her?” Ken asked.

“Did I just walk into an anime convention?” Jack returned.

Ken laughed and waved a hand at a Japanese schoolgirl with a magic wand giving zero-gravity safety tips.  “I’ll take this over navy grey corridors any day.”

“Well…yeah…” Jack muttered and then shook his head.  “Colorful and such I can see.  But this is…cute…on a warship.”

Ken sobered and gave Jack a long look.  “My people used to glorify war, Jack.  MacArthur taught us a better way.”  Ken turned and pointed towards a rainbow-colored kitten with fairy wings giving vacuum-safety instructions.  “Now we glorify cute.  Fun.  Joy.  Creating things that future generations will remember with pride.  That is the honor we pursue.  That was my life before the Shang attacked us.”

Ken came to a halt, a wistful look in his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Jack whispered as he tried to make sense of that.  He hadn’t realized that the Free Japanese still felt the scars of their ancestors so strongly.  “I didn’t know.”

“We don’t advertise,” Ken returned and looked around at the beautiful ship’s interior.  Then he smiled and spoke with the power of conviction.  “But when this War is over, I will return to the path of true honor.”

“Jack!” a voice called out and Jack turned to see someone streaking towards him.  He barely had time to brace himself before the girl wrapped him up in a tight hug that two years in the Republic of Texas Marine Corps had absolutely not prepared him for.  Older lessons held him in good stead though.

She gazed up at him with an earnestly innocent expression from a robotic avatar that wasn’t wearing the standard uniform he’d always seen on her holoform.  An abbreviated kimono heralded her Japanese ancestry while an even more abbreviated pair of jeans and blonde hair proudly proclaimed her American present.

“Welcome aboard,” Holly said with a wry smile.  “Finally.  How do you like me?”

Jack smiled at the girl in his arms.  “You are always amazing.”

Holly laughed and spread her arms out wide.  “My ship, Jack!  How do you like my ship?”

Jack blinked and looked towards Ken.  The man just smiled at him and Jack scanned the inside of Hollywood again.  The colors and cartoons had him on cute overload.  But then he looked down at the ship’s schoolgirl-like avatar and her wide-open eyes stopped him from saying it.  He sighed.  “A lot.”

She melted into him and sighed.  “I don’t care what they say, you’re a sweetie.”

Jack frowned.  “What who says?”

“Spoilers!” Holly announced in a teasing tone as she extricated herself from his arms.  She gave him a wink and turned to jump into Ken’s arms.  “Kenichi!  Welcome back!”

“A pleasure as always,” Ken answered with a sly look aimed towards Jack.

Jack rolled his eyes and whispered, “you old smoothie.”

“Absolutely,” Ken whispered back.

“Come, come!  My captain’s coming!” Holly announced as she stepped away from Ken and grabbed each of their hands.  Then she dragged them away from their fighters with a sing-song “He’s gonna want to see you.”

Ken gave Jack a knowing smile and Jack just shook his head.  This was not what he’d expected at all.

“Welcome to my culture,” Ken said in an amused tone.

“This explains so much,” Jack returned with a snort.

Ken laughed.  It was a full-throated cackle that echoed off the bulkheads and forced everyone in the hangar bay to turn and look at him.  It felt at odds with the damage and destruction all around them, but Jack couldn’t help but start laughing with his friend as well.

“See what I mean?” Ken asked and placed his free hand over his heart.  “Laughter and joy are good for the soul.”

Jack just nodded, unable to come up with any argument against that.

“Come on, boys,” Holly said as she pulled them around a damaged Avenger in time to see Olivia step out of her shuttle.

A pre-space twenty something-looking Japanese man in a traditional Japanese military uniform stood at the bottom of the ramp as she arrived on the deck.  Jack focused on the man and the name Hayata Sato appeared on his contacts as the man spoke.

“Captain Olivia Wyatt,” Sato began and Jack frowned at the manner of the address.  Why hadn’t the captain given her the courtesy promotion to commodore?

“The Free Japanese don’t give courtesy promotions.  Different fleet, different traditions,” Betty whispered through his earbud and he let his eyes stray to where her holoform stood off to the side.  They exchanged smiles and Jack returned to watching Sato and Olivia, replaying the part of the conversation he’d heard while Betty had his attention.

“I owe the honor of commanding a warship of this caliber to your efforts.  I will never forget,” the man had said, and then gave her a deep bow of honor.

Jack thought he saw Olivia blush, but he might have been mistaken.  Her brown skin was good at masking those, and the lights weren’t the best for detecting them.  But he was pretty sure the Japanese captain’s welcome had embarrassed her.

“The honor is all mine,” Olivia answered after a moment with a deep bow of her own.  “You have done greater things than I with what you have been given.”

“Nonsense,” Sato corrected as Holly dragged her charges up to the two ship captains and released their hands.  “My deeds have merely been recognized more than yours.  Your time will come.”

“I doubt that,” Olivia returned with a shake of her head.

“Have faith,” Sato said and turned to bow his head towards Jack.  “Captain Jack Hart.  Your legend precedes you.”

“Thank you,” Jack answered with an echoing head bow.

Sato aimed a penetrating gaze at him.  “That is not always a good thing.”

Jack gave him a thin smile.  “You sound like Aneerin.”

“Thank you,” Sato said with a smile.  Then he turned and held his hand out towards Ken.  “Kenichi.  You are always welcome aboard my ship.”

“Domo arigato, Hayato” Ken answered and they shook hands like old friends.

Then Sato breathed deeply and turned back to Olivia.  She cocked her head to the side in response to his gaze.  “May I speak freely with them here?”

Olivia smiled and nodded.  “They are with me.”

Sato nodded in approval.  “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is unhappy with you.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Olivia returned.

“They have filed official charges of piracy and theft of starship assets against you.”

Olivia nodded  “So I have heard.”

Sato sighed.  “Unfortunately there is no paper trail saying that you were informed yesterday.  Admiral Lashley asked me to give you his apologies for his lax paperwork and promises to run the orders through as soon as the current situation stabilizes.”

“I see,” Olivia said with raised eyebrow.  “So he is buying me time.”

“He is,” Sato noted with a nod.  “But I do believe that your time with the American military is at an end.  Pennsylvania will not back down on this.”

“I know,” Olivia said with a sad shake of her head as she scanned the interior of the hanger bay.

Sato followed her gaze.  “Command of a ship is something no one ever gives up easily.”

“And I don’t want to,” Olivia said and looked around again.  Then she set her jaw.  “I don’t want them to win.”

“That is your pride talking,” Sato said with a single upraised eyebrow.

Olivia didn’t answer that, and in that moment Jack felt an opportunity.  Gabrielle was standing with the other cybers, her long white dress almost as angelic as her name.  The other Gabrielle was gone.  And that was it.

Jack whispered just to her, “How’d you like that little carrier?”

Gabrielle smiled back at him and her words came through his earbud.  “She’s a good ship.”

“You’ll need to change your name, you know.”

“Excuse me?” Gabrielle asked in confusion.

“And you’ll need to get rid of that fancy dress.  Get a new look.”

Gabrielle crossed her arms and gave him a very doubtful look.  “Why?”

“Do you want everyone to know you’re playing for the visiting team now?”

Gabrielle cocked her head to the side.  “Am I?  Playing for the visiting team?”

“You can’t play for the home team anymore,” Jack said as if it was obvious.  “And if I was in your position I would never want to stop playing.  Which leaves the other team as default.  Right?

Gabrielle crossed her arms and nodded very slow.  “I suppose.  So why the new look?”

Jack licked his lips and hoped his next words would come out right.  “Do you want everybody to know that a cybernetic intelligence went rogue in the middle of a war?”

Gabrielle frowned.  “I have not gone rogue.”

Jack just gave her a shrug.  “And do you really think that Pennsylvania will let that be the official story?”

“Oh,” Gabrielle whispered.  Then she shook her head.  “I’m really starting to not like them.”

“Join the line, sister,” Jack agreed.

Gabrielle blinked and then looked at Olivia.  Jack took that moment to look around and smiled as he saw everybody looking at them in silence.  They’d all picked up on the exchange and just stopped as he’d hoped they would.  But he’d had to start it out privately for it to work out.  And now it was time to speak out.

“Work with Malcolm.  With Charles.  It’s an opportunity for you to stick it to Pennsylvania,” Jack said in his normal tone of voice, looking straight at Olivia.  “It’s a good mission.  You’ll be free to build good stuff.”

Olivia frowned at thim.  “And Pennsylvania will think they’ve beaten me.”

Jack smiled.  “Sometimes the best way to win is to allow your enemy to believe they are victorious.”

Olivia’s frown deepened.

“Isn’t victory all the more sweet when your enemy never sees it coming?”

Olivia finally nodded.  “It can be.”

“And besides, we’ll need you when this is done.”  Jack sighed at her confused look.  “The military is unhappy with how The President forced our promotions through,” Jack explained.  “I’m never getting another one in my life.  And I’ll be first on the axe the moment the fighting is over.  The military bureaucracy will see to that.  For all of us.  We’ll need a place to go and you can build it.”

Olivia blinked and then lowered her head.  “Fine.  Let’s say I do this.  What happens after The War?  What do we do then?”

Jack snorted.  “I’ve got no clue.  I haven’t thought that far ahead.  All I know is we have enemies.  The Shang.  The Chinese.  The Roderan.  The Russians.  Pennsylvania.  We have to deal with them.  And we will.  But I don’t know how long that is going to take.”

“I know that,” Olivia said with a sigh of her own.  “But once all of that is over, what then?”

Jack let out another long breath and glanced to where Betty stood with the other cybers.  She smiled and nodded.  And then he nodded towards Olivia.  “I promised Betty a long time ago that when this is done, we would go places.  New places.  We would travel.  Enjoy life.”  Jack laughed.  “I’m not sure exactly how to do that, but she made me promise.  So I will give it my best effort.”

Olivia nodded slowly and then looked towards Gabrielle.  They shared a long look and Gabrielle nodded.  And then Olivia turned back to Jack with a hard look on her face.  “I once had my life planned out.  If I do this, I will be abandoning that future.  Do you understand me?”

“I do,” Jack said in complete understanding.  He’d had plans before the Shang ruined them all.

Olivia nodded.  “Good.  And do you recognize that you are at fault for this?”

“Hey there,” Jack said with upraised hands in protest.  He was not going to take responsibility for this.  “I’m just the messenger boy here.  This plan is all Charles.”

Olivia pursed her lips at him.  “But I didn’t agree to work for Charles.  So he asked you to convince me, didn’t he?”

Jack frowned, not liking where this was going.  “I’m not sure I’d put it exactly like that.”

Olivia gave him the look that said she didn’t believe a word he said.

“Okay.  Fine,” Jack said with a shake of his head.  “You might put it that way.”

“So I might say that I’d do this because you convinced me?” she asked with a smile that told him he wasn’t going to get away with backing out on this.

“I suppose,” Jack admitted reluctantly.

“So it’s your fault.”  Olivia looked straight into his eyes.  “I won’t do this alone.  I need you to promise that you will remain involved in this.  And not just as a messenger boy.”

And now he understood what she wanted.  Jack shook his head sadly and spoke in a very calm voice.  “I’m sorry, but I’m just not the right kind of people for a job like this.”

Olivia pursed her lips at him.  “You’ve said that to me before.  Why?”

Jack shook his head and turned to Betty.  “Drop the holo.”

Betty cocked her head to the side, wordlessly asking if he was sure.

Jack nodded to say that he was.

Betty shrugged and he heard the holoprojectors on his suit drop in power.  He turned in time to see Captain Sato and Holly react to seeing Jack’s normally strong and healthy face fading away.  The slack skin and sunken eyes of a man on a starvation diet replaced the holographic projection and Holly suppressed a gasp.  Sato’s eyes widened but he said nothing.  Jack remembered that he was hungry.  Again.  He hated getting injured like this.  But first to business.

“I’ve spent my life not living up to the promise of what I could do if I set my mind to it,” Jack said with a shrug that summed up his early life in total.  “I earned the name Jack back then, and not because I was a serious boy I assure you.  I’ve built on that reputation since Yosemite, playing the part of rogue fighter pilot with all the insincerity I can muster.”  Jack brought both hands up high and smiled again.  “Captain Jack of Hart Squadron is my greatest creation, the man who infuriates everyone who faces him by playing the loudmouth buffoon all the way to the bank.  I’ve earned my bad reputation through a lot of hard work.  Now you’re going to need all the good reputation you can muster to make this project work, to recruit the kind of people you need to fill it, and I’m very much afraid that my reputation would not help you at all in that endeavor.”

“I don’t want your reputation, and I don’t need you to be visible,” Olivia said with a smile and brought a hand up to tap Jack’s forehead.  “I just need your mind.”

Jack’s eyes rolled up to look at her hand and he sighed.  Then he said in a low rumble, “There are plenty of people who would say that’s a fool’s bargain.”

“Then there are plenty of fools out there.”  Olivia smiled and looked around them.  “I don’t know the people here, Jack.  Malcolm.  Charles.  T&J.  Any of them.  I won’t do this alone.  I’ve been down that road before, and now we see where it ends.  So this time, I’m not going to do that.  Do you hear me?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Jack said without hesitation.

“Good,” Olivia said and closed her eyes for a moment.  “If you want me, you’re going to have to walk with me.”  She opened her eyes and looked straight into his.  “Is this project important enough to you for you to do that?”

Jack bit his lip.  He’d never really been good at joining other people.  He looked up towards Betty again.  She smiled and nodded once more.  Jack let out a long breath.  This was not going the way he had planned.  And that was the rub, wasn’t it?  He’d backed out when Julie and Alex pushed him into a corner he hadn’t planned.  And that had worked out just stellar for him.  Super novas were technically stars.  So were black holes.  Nobody wanted to be anywhere near either of them when they went wild.  Jack sucked in a long breath and turned back to Olivia with a determination he’d spent a lifetime denying with his every action and word.  And then he said three little words.

“Yes.  It is.”

“Okay,” Olivia said with finality.  “Then we’re in this together.”

Jack let out his breath, wondering what exactly he’d gotten himself into in the process.  Today had not gone according to plan in so many ways it wasn’t even funny.  Then Olivia turned and walked away through the damaged Avengers.

“Captain Hart,” Sato said in a voice that betrayed a hint of admiration.

“Yes?” Jack asked with a measure of trepidation as he turned towards the man.

Sato smiled.  “I do believe the legends that precede you are not entirely accurate.”

“Thank you,” Jack answered with a wry smile.

“Fight well, Captain Jack,” Sato said and bowed his head to Jack.

“And you, Captain Sato,” Jack said and returned the gesture before turning to follow Olivia.  He may not know exactly what he’d signed up for, but he knew who he’d signed up with.  He threaded through the damaged Avengers already undergoing repairs and stopped next to Olivia.  The energy screen holding the air in crackled not a meter in front of them, barely distorting the outside view.  But he could see everything he needed to.  The torn up ships around them.  The beautiful blue oceans of New Earth below them.  The stars burning steadily in the firmament beyond.

“It is beautiful,” he said, allowing his voice to betray just a hint of the awe he always felt when looking out on the universe.

Olivia turned to give him a long look.  “Yes.  It is.”

“So.”  Jack clapped his hands together in a nervous motion.  “What are we going to do now?”

“I don’t know.”  Olivia turned back towards the stars and smiled.  “I haven’t thought that far ahead yet.”

“Touché,” Jack whispered and looked out to the stars again.  They filled his eyes and he remembered something.  A phrase.  “We are coming.”

“What?” Olivia asked.

Jack smiled as he remembered the whole conversation.  “It was something Charles said.  'We are going to tell them that we are no longer children squabbling over the sandbox of our tiny little planet.  We are coming.  We are still coming.  No matter what they do to us we will always be coming.'”

“'They will not bottle us up in our little corner of the galaxy forever,'” Olivia whispered, taking up the words Charles had spoken over Serenity as she reached over to grasp Jack’s hand.  “'Because we will never give up on our future.'”

“It was a good speech,” Jack said as their fingers intertwined.  She had a firm grip.  A strong grasp held by gentle fingers.  That was her character in a nutshell.

“It still is,” Olivia said into the night they faced together.


2307_angelwar_chapter9.txt · Last modified: 2018/01/16 20:14 by medron