Redemption – Volume 1: Sacrifices

Redemption: Volume One – Sacrifices

by Lord Goodfella

This series uses a combination of characters, situations, and vehicles based upon the Star Wars and Star Trek sagas, Earth: Final Conflict, JAG, the WWE, and characters of my own creation, the Sanders family. All characters and vehicles used are for the sole intent of storytelling and not for profitable gain for myself.  All of the characters except for the ones created within the established premise are the sole property of the individuals listed below.

Many thanks to George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, CBS officials, and Vince McMahon for creating a host of wonderful characters that will live in the hearts and minds of fans for years to come.

Rated PG for some mild language.  This is a crossover series melding the Star Wars and Star Trek universes together in possibly the largest joint fan-fiction series ever.

Redemption – Volume 1:  Sacrifices

Summary

The year is 2035. Earth is on the brink of a climatic battle with a terrifying enemy from an unknown galaxy.

The United States’ military, undermanned and outgunned after nearly twenty years of war with it foes, prepares for the worse. The enemy has entered Earth’s solar system, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake while pushing relentlessly toward yet another conquest.  Even if every nation puts aside their differences and join forces, Earth would have no chance.

Only one man has the power and ability to claim victory. A hero from the past, cryogenically frozen for a crime he did not commit, will return to a new world…a world in need of a miracle.

_____________

Prologue
————-

Four years earlier…

General James Dennison, a handsome, dark-haired man at fifty-five, looked up from the book when the door to his office opened.  His aide poked his head through the door.  “Sir, Chief Warrant Officer Sanders is here.”

Dennison smiled as he dog-eared the page he was reading and closed the book, sitting it on his desk.  “Send him in, Ensign.”

The door opened wider, and CWO5 Michael Sanders, bedecked in his green Alpha uniform with barracks cover tucked under his left arm, marched into the office and stopped a foot short of the desk at attention.  He focused on a spot six inches above Dennison’s head.  “Sir, Chief Warrant Officer Sanders reporting as ordered.”

Dennison nodded and gestured to the seat to Sanders’ right.  “Take a seat, Chief.”

Once Sanders was situated in his chair, Dennison grinned.  “You are a sight for sore eyes, Mike.”

Sanders shot a grin back.  “It’s good to see you too, sir.  How’s Sandy?”

“Oh, she’s fine, though she’s running around like a chicken with her head cut off.”  He rose from his chair and walked around to the front of the desk where he took the second chair beside Sanders.  “Jessica’s getting married in a month.”

Sanders’ eyes widened.  “Really?  To whom?”

“An Air Force captain stationed at the Pentagon.  Bit of a crack head if you ask me.”  He reached for the humidor and pulled out two cigars and a lighter.  Passing one to the chief, he took the other and ran it under his nose before lighting it.

“I’ve always hoped that one day you and Jes would have hooked up.”

Sanders smiled.  “I’ve told you before.  I wouldn’t feel right having Jes as a wife.  She’s more my best friend than anything.  I want to keep it that way.”

He leaned closer to Dennison and spoke in a conspiracy-like tone.  “Besides, she’s not the only one who made the big decision.”

Dennison looked at Sanders like he was speaking upside down until Sanders held up his left hand, showing the general his platinum wedding band for the first time.  It was Dennison’s turn to be shocked.

“Well I’ll be damned.”  He set the cigar in the ashtray on the desk and turned to get a better view of the ring.  “Who’s the lucky woman?”

“Her name’s Alicia Coleman.  I met her at Pensacola last year.  A friend of mine who’s a JAG lawyer went to law school with her a few years ago.  He introduced me to her at a party she threw for her kid sister.”

Dennison smiled.  “And to think I knew deep down you would never marry Jes, but to think you would marry period?  This … this is incredible.  Why wasn’t I invited?”

Sanders accepted the lighter Dennison offered him.  You were in Yemen, remember?  I called you to ask what you were doing about a month ago.”

“Oh yeah.  I remember.”  Dennison laughed as he rose from the chair and went back around to his desk.  “Well, congratulations.  Jes and Sandy will be thrilled.  Where’s the lucky lady now?”

“Still in Pensacola, but she’ll be up here tomorrow.”  Sanders lit his cigar and tossed the lighter to Dennison, who caught it and placed it back in the humidor.

“Well, sir.  You got me up here in a bunch of secrecy.  What’s the scoop?”

Dennison nodded.  “You know the Federation is starting to augment Armed Forces members into Starfleet.”

Sanders nodded.  “Yeah.  I heard.  Steve Austin received a letter of commission but turned it down.  Said he hates space travel.”

“Don’t we all,” said Dennison.

Sanders did not reply, causing Dennison to sit up in his chair.  “You received one, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“And what did you say?”

“I haven’t decided yet.  The thing that got me was they wanted to give me a major’s rank, which doesn’t really match up with my time in service.”

Dennison held up a folder.  “Well, I saw that same letter you got and I sent it back to them with a nice note saying that they needed to get you a higher rank.  They agreed with me.”

Sanders took a nice pull from his cigar.  “So, what am I?  Lieutenant Colonel?  Colonel?”

“How about admiral?”

Sanders choked on the smoke he inhaled.  “Admiral?”

Dennison set the folder on the desk and tapped it with his forefinger. “We’re giving away a Medal of Honor winner and one of the greatest men who ever donned the uniform of a Marine.  You think I was going to let you waltz over to Starfleet as a lowly major?”

Sanders smiled as he took a more cautionary puff of his cigar.  “No, I didn’t think so, sir.”

Dennison leaned forward.  “I’d hate to lose you.  But I know you would rather be warping around the cosmos than hanging around looking into my ugly mug.”

Sanders laughed as Dennison rose from his chair and stretched out his hand.  “Congratulations on your appointment, Admiral Sanders.”

*********

Present Day.

Admiral Michael Sanders stood by a window outside of Courtroom One, slowly sipping coffee while staring at the Friday afternoon traffic going up Interstate 395 past the Pentagon.  He thought back to the day he received his appointment from the late Marine Corps legend.

If only the old man could see how I turned out, he thought to himself.

“Honey, are you all right?”

Sanders turned around and stared at his wife, sitting on a bench a few feet away; so quiet he almost forgot she was there. How could I, he thought. This is the love of my life. “I’m fine, Alicia. Just…just wishing I was far away from here.”

Alicia Coleman-Sanders got up and walked towards her husband. “I know. I was wishing the same thing — for both of us. Actually,” she said, smiling a little and looking down at her swollen belly, “I was wishing for all five of us.”

Sanders smiled, a genuine smile at his wife, his lover, and his best friend. He reached out to her midsection but stopped until his hand was less than two inches away. Slowly he closed his eyes and reached out again, not with his hand, but with the mysterious power he had.

He had no clue of what power he possessed until just after his twelfth birthday.  His father was working underneath a car when the jack gave way, pinning him to the ground.  The screams forced Michael to come out of the house running with tears in his eyes at the sight.

He immediately went to the jack but it was a mixture of broken gears and screws on the ground. As he moved his hundred pound frame to the front of the car in an obviously futile attempt to pick the car up with his bare hands, he visualized the car easing off of his father’s broken body.

The car eased off of his father’s broken body five feet into the air..

Michael was shocked at the sight. Shocked because he was not even touching the car.

As he dragged his father from underneath, he looked into his eyes. “Dad?  Dad?  Can you hear me?”

His father’s eyes fluttered opened. They slowly focused on Michael as they both rested on the ground together.

His father whispered something. Michael strained to hear the words.  “What did you say, Dad?”

His father smiled. “I knew you could do it, son.” He reached out for Michael’s hand and patted it one time before closing his eyes for the last time.

Michael did not know what his father meant for years, but he slowly began to understand and respect the power he had. The telekinesis.  The augmented strength.  The ability to see into the future and into the past.  His fighting ability.  The power to sense others like him.

Like his unborn children.

He could feel his daughter resting peacefully in her mother’s womb. Her twin sister was also resting quietly, but kicking slowly with her right foot.

But where is my son? He probed past his daughters to the back where — There he is, he thought with an inner smile. Back to the world, not caring about anything. The smile he felt on the inside slowly changed into sadness matching what he displayed on his face. I hope he turns out to be better than his old man, he thought.

“Admiral?”

Sanders shook himself out of his reverie and turned towards the sound of the voice. “Top, what is it?”

“Excuse me, sir, ma’am,” said Master Gunnery Sergeant Ronald “Rico” Torres, Judge Advocate General Chief, a veteran of the Persian Gulf conflict over twenty years ago, and one of the heroes of the Iraqi War that finally toppled Saddam Hussein last year. He was once considered for change of rank to sergeant major by the Commandant of the Marine Corps so he could be the top enlisted Marine. He turned it down, telling Sanders over a few beers one night that “with all due respect, I cannot in my right frame of mind take that Washington traffic every day for four years straight.”

Alicia, whether she was Force-trained or feeding off of her unborn children’s growing power, could sense something wrong in Top’s demeanor. “Ron, what’s wrong?”

Top looked at the Sanders, his face slowly searching for a way to pass his news, but Sanders slowly laid his hand on his shoulder. “Ron, it’s okay. Tell me.”

Top looked a little relieved, but it was still hard. Harder than the gold in Hussein’s underground bunker. “I got word back from Austin’s trial in Quantico. Guilty on all counts.”

“Oh no,” said Alicia. She put her hand to her mouth to cover her shock. “I thought his attorney was trying to work a deal with the JAG prosecutor.”

“Austin maintained his innocence, from what Commander Rabb just passed to me over my global,” said Top. “He was not hearing any deal, despite what his counsel and Colonel McKenzie was telling him”

Alicia looked up at that piece of news. “No new evidence?” She looked at Sanders. “I heard they were trying to submit those logs you kept of your briefings.”

“I don’t think so, but –” Top stopped as a beeping sounded off from Alicia’s purse. All three looked at each other in silence.

Alicia slowly reached inside her and drew out the culprit — her global communicator. She stepped away from her husband’s side and spoke softly a few feet away.

Sanders looked at Top Tyler. “What about sentencing? Are they going for life again?”

Top shrugged. “Harm told me that they’re holding off sentencing until after your trial. Probably waiting to see if they can kill two birds with one stone.”

Sanders clenched his fists together until his knuckles cracked. “I can’t go to the brig, Ron,” he said, a look of despair etched in his face while looking at Alicia, who was still conversing in a low whisper on her cell.

“Do you see that woman over there? She is carrying my children. Our children. Two girls and a boy. I have to be around.”

Top looked at his friend eight who was eight years his junior. “I know, Mike. I know. Your wife is not a pushover, though. She has done some amazing things in that courtroom that would make Matlock and Perry Mason spin.” He smiled, mustering a look of confidence. “As much as Harm and I were ticked you didn’t ask one of us for representation, we are quite impressed with the job Alicia has done in there. Colonel McKenzie’s impressed, too.”

“Well, I hope she is impressed,” said Sanders, angrily shaking his fist at his side. “Good impressions of felons’ wives as their lawyers are points in the felons’ favor. Right, Top?”

Top shot Sanders a look that would pierce the moon. “Don’t even start like that, Sanders. The colonel didn’t want to go after Steve because she knew of his history. The order came from above to bring him down.”

Alicia finished up her conversation and slowly put her global in her bag, her back still turned to Sanders and Top while looking out of the window. “Ron, could you excuse us, please?” she said.

“Sure, anything you say, Alicia,” said Top. He turned to Sanders. “I’ll find out everything I can about Steve and pass it on to you, okay?”

“Okay, Top. Thanks.” Top glanced at Alicia’s back as he turned and made his way down the hall to the cafeteria.

Sanders did not move towards his wife. With his power he could feel the emotions she was carrying inside of her. It felt a little different with his son and daughters’ spirits within her, but he was always able to recognize hers immediately. “Alicia, what’s wrong?”

Alicia continued to look out of the window. “Well, Commander Kidman called to let me know that the deal is back on the table, if you want to take it.”

“What do you propose?”

Alicia’s shoulders seemed to have drooped as she turned to face her husband.  “As your wife and mother of our three children, I would want to keep fighting to get you completely cleared.  As your counsel, I’d advise you to take it.  I still believe you have a chance to win, but with Austin being found guilty, I don’t know.”

Sanders looked down at her. Despite the love he had for the military, for the uniform he wore, and the rules that come along with it, he did not have a care in the world at this moment. No care except for the woman before him and the three delicate lives she carried within her. He simply wanted this to be over.

********

The courtroom was silent as Alicia Coleman-Sanders completed her closing statements and made her way back to her seat beside her husband. She was about to write on her well-worn notepad when she read up at the top…

You were great.

Alicia spared Sanders a quick glance and smile before turning serious again as Commander Eric Kramer began his closing statement. Time to pay attention to the mission at hand here, she thought.

Kramer, a tall, tanned, thirty-five-year-old Naval Academy graduate, stood before the seven general officers from the Navy and Marine Corps sitting before him. He looked each one in the eye before he began speaking, as if introducing himself by framing a mental picture in each officer’s mind.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Counselor Coleman-Sanders brought up a very good fact.” He turned to point at Sanders sitting at the far table. “Here we have one of the greatest warriors the military has to offer. A Yemen War veteran, recipient of the Navy Cross, captain of the Federation flagship, and a possible candidate for the Joint Chiefs in six years. Military veterans are already labeling him as the next Colin Powell.”

“I respect Admiral Sanders for the service he and General “Stone Cold” Steve Austin have given this country. They would have been revered as legends in the next thirty years. They still might.”

Kramer paused as he slowly looked over the jury before starting again. “Admiral Sanders and General Austin are also aware of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, as I am, and you all are, I am quite sure.

Kramer turned to face the Sanders’ table as he continued. “On November 1, 2009, Yemen was attacked, with General Austin leading the ground assault, while Admiral Sanders led the aerial attack with Mantis X-14s and the Rattler-class vessels.”

“The mission was two-fold: first objective was to provide a air COC in case Austin needed support, and also to maintain a vigil on Iraq’s neighbors to the south, in case they came to assist. The second objective was to pummel the area where the late Saddham Hussein’s underground bunker was located.” Kramer turned to face the jury. “Not to say you are ignorant of the issue here, but I said late.” He smiled. “I’ll talk about that in a minute.”

Kramer walked over to a poster-size map with the layout of the Iraqi conflict. “Admiral Sanders was to hold aerial reinforcements eight miles south of the location here,” he said, pointing to a spot south of the bunker. He had two orders from the JCS. One, women and children were not to be
harmed, and two, Hussein was to be brought in alive.”

Kramer moved his finger to a position two squares north of Sanders’ aerial location. “General Austin landed and proceeded up towards Hussein’s bunkers with mortar and Howitzer capabilities. They could have done their job with pinpoint accuracy from as many as two miles out without risking any of our Marines. Yet somehow –,” he moved his finger until it was practically on top of the bunker. “Austin and Sanders’ troops were out for blood, and ignored their orders and proceeded to not only kill our main prize,” he turned to face Sanders. “Saddam Hussein, but also one hundred and forty-six, one, four, six, people. Innocents of a killing spree by two men who obviously overstepped their bounds.”

Kramer went to his table where a young lieutenant handed him a piece of paper without being asked. Kramer slowly read it before continuing.

“This is Exhibit H, a list of Marine casualties on November 1. On this list I do not see one hundred and forty-six dead or wounded. I don’t even see 14. I see seven Marine casualties on that day. Three KIA’s and four MIA’s.”

Kramer kept speaking as he handed the copy to the judge. “Yes, they were wounded. Yes, we lost Marines, but did it justify breaching the peace by killing nearly 150 souls?”

Alicia could feel the blood boil within Michael. She reached over to grab his hand. Partly for reassurance.

Mostly for restraint. Just in case.

“General Austin was convicted of breach of peace, conduct unbecoming, and disobedience of a direct order from the President of the United States, one step below treason,” said Kramer. “Admiral Sanders is facing these same charges. He is facing these charges because he believed the dead had weapons. We found no evidence to support this fact. Rules are made to be followed, not broken.”

Kramer strolled over to the defendant’s table until he stood next to Alicia. “Admiral Sanders has three children, triplets on the way. Dozens of men and women in Iraq are facing the rest of their lives without their children because he took parents from children or children from parents.  He destroyed families.  While I am not proposing to destroy his family, as the old law states, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

***********

“All rise.”

Michael and Alicia immediately stopped their conversation and rose to their feet as Brigadier General Joseph Monroe walked into the courtroom and made his way to the bench.

The sergeant who sounded off for the admiral’s arrival waited until he was seated before saying, “Be seated.”

The courtroom followed the ordered of the sergeant and regained their seating as Gen. Monroe asked the jury foreman, “Have you reached a verdict?”

A vice-admiral, an Iraqi War veteran by the black and tan striped ribbon he wore, rose from the jury, a folded piece of paper in hand. “We have, Your Honor,” he said. He gave the paper to the sergeant, who delivered it to the general.

Alicia looked at Mike as he stared at the general. She held on to his hand for support, not knowing what he was thinking or feeling, but could tell that the emotions he is feeling inside are overwhelming even him.

Mike’s head suddenly dropped.

Alicia looked at him. “Mike,” she whispered. “What’s wrong?”

Mike slowly turned his head to where he can see his wife. “You’ll see.”

The paper has made its way back to the jury foreman. The judge then addressed the defendant and his counsel.

“Will the defendant please rise.”

Mike looked again at Alicia before rising from his chair. As he got up, some transformation was made. Where he looked sorrowful just seconds ago, he changed into the warrior he was known to be. Shoulders up, stomach in, head straight.

Like he wanted to be remembered.

The general turned his attention to the foreman. “Jury foreman, please read the verdict.”

The foreman rose and addressed the courtroom. “Admiral Michael J. Sanders, on the charge of murder, first degree, one hundred and forty-six counts, the court finds you…guilty.”

“On the charge of breaching the peace, the court finds you…guilty.”

“On the charge of conduct unbecoming an officer, the court finds you…guilty.”

“On the charge of disobeying a direct order from the President of the United States, the court finds you…guilty.”

The judge finished signing paperwork at the bench and addressed the jury. “Ladies and gentlemen, this court thanks you for your diligence in this matter. You are excused.”

The seven officers rose and made its way to the side doors leading out of the courtroom. The judge waited until the doors were closed before speaking again.

“Sentencing will be held at 0800 tomorrow morning,” he said while looking at a piece of paper in front of him.

He then looked up at two armed Marine military policemen in the back. “Sergeant, take the admiral into custody.”

Alicia was up out of her chair before the admiral even finished speaking. “Your Honor, I would like to appeal the verdict.”

General Monroe looked at Alicia like she was crazy. “On what grounds?” said the judge.

Alicia stood her ground. “Your honor, my client and General Austin have said time and time again that their troops were being fired upon. I have brought forth evidence saying there was a videotape that would make their claim true. Somehow between Iraq and Washington that tape came up missing. Prosecution has not denied knowing it exists, even though I admit he has not viewed the tape.”

She slowly moved away from behind the table. “The evidence exists, Your Honor, and if it ‘mysteriously disappears,’ this court has to admit there is some sort of conspiracy here that is aiming to convict my client.”

Commander Kramer now rose from his chair and made his way to the front. “Not so, Counselor. I admit the tape exists, Your Honor, but I do not have it. I have not seen it. No one has seen it except for whoever was in Iraq, and those two have just been convicted.” He glanced over his shoulder at Admiral Sanders who was still standing, with the two sergeants standing close by. “There is no way that even if this tape was here, it would exonerate the admiral.”

General Monroe steepled his fingers until they pointed at Alicia. “Do you have any idea where this tape is?”

Alicia’s shoulders drooped slightly, but Mike felt his wife’s pain as intense as if he was standing close to a fire. “No, Your Honor.”

“Then this trial is over,” said the judge. He signaled to the sergeants who were trying to stay hidden in the back and not be noticed by the 6′ 6″ admiral.

Mike stood at attention until the closest sergeant reached him with handcuffs. “Sir,” he said, “if you please…”

Mike looked at the sergeant, who looked like he lost his best friend. “Give me a minute.” He turned to his wife, who moved closer to her husband as if it would be the last time they would be together.

“You put up a good fight,” said Mike. He wiped a tear from Alicia’s cheek, shaking his head, conveying the unspoken message to his wife. No emotion. There is peace. We do what we must.

Mike then turned to the two sergeants waiting behind him and slowly raised his hands together.

“I’m ready.”

********

“I still don’t think life will do it.”

Commander Kramer looked up from his notes at the Marine standing by the window, looking out at the bugler signal Taps from the flagpole. “I don’t want to kill them, sir,” he said. “Hell, I didn’t even want to pursue the prosecution. Did you see The Times today?” He held up a copy of the front section of the newspaper. “In the editorial section several Marines who don’t even know Sanders or Austin wrote that what was done in Iraq was necessary, and that a conviction would only state that the military’s uses are limited to the government’s pleasure.”

Colonel Thomas “Mad Dog” Knight, Chief of Staff for the Commandant of the Marine Corps, turned around from the window to stare at Kramer for what seemed like a lifetime. Kramer stared back evenly.

Finally Knight spoke. “Commander, I don’t want to hang Admiral Sanders or General Austin out to dry.” He walked to a closed door separating the upstairs foyer from the office of the Commandant. “Do you know what he’s doing in there now? He is talking to the Secretary of Defense about what to do with them, while at the same time preparing for any repercussions from Iraq’s allies.”

Knight walked over and picked up the newspaper Kramer laid down beside him on the leather antique sofa, left as a gift to the oldest continually used building in Washington by the last Commandant, General Walter Stillman.

“These comments our Marines stated are true,” said Knight. “Believe me when I say what Austin and Sanders did had to be done. I believe them if they said they were fired upon with weapons not initially identified in Intel reports and our recons.”

He dropped the newspaper back on the sofa. “However, we have our orders. We must think of the safety of our nation first, and try to repair the damage that has been done.”

“And that is exactly what we plan on doing, Tom.”

At the first sign of the new voice, both Knight and Kramer both turned to its direction and snapped to attention, Kramer spilling his notes to the floor in the process.

General Raymond Tucker, leaning against the doorframe of his office, raised his hand before they finished. “Not necessary, gentlemen. You’re in my house, remember?”

Both men dropped the stiffness from their stance as Tucker turned and led them into his office. A television beside the large oak fireplace was set to Washington’s local news station, describing the latest developments on the Austin-Sanders case.

Tucker went to the bar and poured himself a drink while Knight and Kramer, scattered notes under his arm, settled themselves into chairs in front of the commandant’s desk.

“I just got off the phone with Secretary Wesley,” said Tucker as he dropped two ice cubes in his drink. He turned and walked behind the desk, dropping lazily into his armchair.
“This entire case is ridiculous.”

Colonel Knight looked at Commander Kramer before speaking. “I agree, sir. However, it places the U.S. in a bad spot. Should we sacrifice two men to appease a nation we really have no positive dealings with in the first place?”

The general took a generous swig from his tumbler. “I don’t want to do it,” he said. “I have the honor of serving with General Austin on numerous occasions. He is an honorable man. For Admiral Sanders to be associated with him, that speaks volumes for his integrity.”

Commander Kramer slid to the front of his seat. “I know, sir. However, they were both convicted by a jury of their peers.”

Tucker looked at his glass. Time for another refill. “Yes, Commander. The secretary is aware of that.” He got up to go to the bar. “Therefore, we shall discuss sentencing.”

Knight and Kramer glanced at each other. “Of course, sir,” said Kramer. “I am going to suggest tomorrow that they are sent away for sixty years.”

Tucker filled his drink. “No.”

Knight was stunned into silence. “Begging the general’s pardon, but…”

Tucker waved off the rest of Knight’s reply. “No, I am not going to send them in front of a firing squad, either.” He moved, fresh drink in hand, back to his desk. “Here we have two men, ‘warriors,’ who have done this country a great service numerous times, and they have been found guilty of crimes against the government.”

A fax machine behind Tucker began printing a transmitted document. He turned and glanced at it, sighing with a look of resignation before pulling the copy from it.

“This generation has given up on them. Perhaps a new generation can use their talents in the future,” he said, as he passed the copy on to Knight.

Knight read the copy, looking at Tucker with a surprised expression before wordlessly passing the paper to Kramer.

Kramer had only to read the top half portion of the paper to realize what Tucker was talking about.

From the office of the Secretary of Defense.

To Gen. Raymond Tucker.

Ray;

The President and I have discussed what to do with Gen. Austin and Adm. Sanders, and while I pushed for a total dismissal of all charges and basically telling Iraq to go “screw themselves,” the President felt some course of action must happen to smooth relations between the U.S. and the Middle East.

However, he is not about to forget the service these two men have given this country. Their actions will forever be remembered, and if there no evidence exists that justifies their actions of a year ago, then we have no choice but to do this.

They will be cryogenically frozen for no less than fifty (50) years on the International Space Station. Iraq will be notified of their “executions” after the sentence has been carried out.

While I believe the actions taken by these men were justified, the President feels this course of action will lead to a calm peace between the U.S. and the Middle East.

V/R,

Jordan A. Wesley

********

At this point Mike Sanders did not care where he slept. After all the in-processing, the fingerprinting, the outfitting, he just wanted to go to sleep.

Stripped of his Alpha uniform, and wearing an orange jumpsuit, he was escorted down Processing Block by two MPs, carrying his blanket, pillow, and hygiene gear. Prisoners in their cells for the night looked through the bars, whispering amongst themselves why a living legend like Mike Sanders was in the brig.

Biggest thrill for them in weeks.

The MPs took him to the last cell on the end of the hall. It was already open and had one cot, a sink, toilet, and shelf. Nothing else.

Sanders started to walk in and stopped at the cell door. The MPs tensed, fingers itching for their tasers.

“Relax, Marines,” he said, feeling through his powers the tension both MPs felt. He walked in and dropped his gear on his cot. “This isn’t a post-trial confinement’s cell.”

One of the MPs, a lance corporal, responded, sounding a little relaxed by the admiral’s cooperation. “No, sir,” he said. “Because you’re getting sentenced tomorrow, we’ve been instructed to place you and the general in these cells for the evening.”

Sanders’ eyes lit up. “The general?”

A voice boomed from behind the MPs. “That’s right, the general, you fake squid.”

Sanders looked around the MPs to see a familiar sight. “Well, well, well. Noose didn’t fit that big red neck of yours?”

General Steven Austin stood up and looked through the bars of his cell, right across from Sanders’. “Nope,” he said with a smile. “They figure they’ll stretch it out for the both of us tomorrow.”

Sanders smiled, glad that even in these tough times, a familiar face was close by. It almost made him forget where he was.

“Excuse me, sir?”

Sanders looked down at the lance corporal for two heartbeats before he realized what he had done. He had practically stepped between the two MPs while talking to Austin.

“Oh, sorry,” he said with a sheepish grin. He stepped back into his cell.

“Thank you, sir,” said the lance corporal, exhaling a relieved sigh. He pulled a control pad from his utility belt and touched some keys. The cell door slid shut, separating
Sanders from Austin, and Austin from Sanders…and both from a long hallway of freedom.

Sanders sat down on his cot, holding his head in his hands, listening to the footsteps gradually descending in the distance. After the steps stopped for what seemed like an eternity, he spoke. “How’re you doing, Steve?”

Austin stood by the cell doors, arms hanging out. “Don’t worry about me, brother. I have no family. The only family I have is, well,” he snickered sarcastically. “is in the brig with me.” He looked down on the ground, as if looking for a crack in the dry cement. “The question is, how are you doing?”

Sanders did not look up. “I’m worried about Alicia more than you, more than me, more than anything right now.”

Austin looked up from his cell inspection, eyes of concern trained on Sanders. “How did she take the news?”

“She was still fighting the verdict as I walked out of the courtroom,” said Sanders. He finally looked up to look at the wall of his cell. Pieces of dried leftover tape were hanging from the walls, as well as inscriptions of past cellmates, claiming their innocence, sexuality, and violent nature. “I had time to wipe a tear, get handcuffed, and get out of there.”

Austin snorted. “Well, at least you had time to do that. Me, they had the handcuffs out before the verdict was even handed out.” He slid down to the floor beside the bars. “Face it, Sanders. We were set up.”

Sanders rose to face Austin, separated by two sets of bars. “I know, Steve. The thing is I can’t prove it.” He retreated slowly to the back of his cell. “That what bothers me.”

Austin stared at Sanders across the row, silent. “Is Alicia planning an appeal?”

“Yeah, because of that missing tape. The thing is, there’s no telling where it is.” He stared through the bars at his oldest friend as if imaging a space large enough for him to slide through. “If it’s destroyed, we’re finished.”

*********

Jennifer Coleman has never experienced pregnancy. After spending two weeks with her older sister, she made up her mind to be celibate for the rest of her life.

Almost from the second she stepped off the plane at Reagan-Clinton International Airport and met her sister, she could tell the past several weeks have been hell on her.

For two weeks, Jennifer had fielded from 0800 to 1800 as many as fifty telephone calls from publishers, reporters, and other Marines wishing the family well. Today the only phone call was from the correctional facility supervisor, telling Alicia she could bring her sister to view the cryogenic process.

At first Alicia played the gracious sister/host, welcoming Jennifer with open arms at the airport gate. She showed her the house and the new nursery, just completed before Mike was sentenced, and they sat in front of the fireplace and ate roasted marshmallows, Alicia listening as Jennifer describe her first semester at the University of North Carolina on a four-year ride for soccer, laughing hysterically that Mike would have thrown a party when they won the national tournament.

Jennifer noted that Alicia did not retreat into herself whenever Mike’s name was mentioned. She began to think her sister was holding up well.

0630 the next day signaled that was not the case when Jennifer, finishing her three-mile run, was past by her sister in her SUV on the road in front of the house without so much as a wave out of the window. Jennifer called her sister on the cell phone as soon as she stepped into the house.

“Jennifer, I honestly forgot you were here,” said Alicia. Jennifer was dumbfounded, but actually believed her.

And so it was like that for nearly two weeks. Alicia spent most of her waking hours between Quantico, the Pentagon, and her office in Alexandria, working on a new appeal for her husband. If Jennifer ever hoped to see her, it was late at night when Alicia strolls in, tired from another day of fruitless litigations.

Jennifer conveyed all of this to her mother in Florida, who quietly thanked her for being there for her sister.

“Your sister is not ignoring you on purpose,” said Maggie Coleman. “She is going through a tough time right now, and I’m confident she’ll make it. Mike was a pillar of strength in that house. Now you have to be one for her. Let her feed off of you.”

Now as they left the car in a lot overlooking the Anacostia River, Jennifer noticed a resounding calm in her sister, the first time since she flew into D.C.

“Al?” said Jennifer, calling her by her nickname. “Are you all right? You’re…different today.”

Alicia was lost in her thoughts during the walk. Finally she stopped and looked at Jennifer. “Jen, was I a total bitch the entire time you were here?”

Jennifer looked up at her big sis. “No, you weren’t.” She reached to pull Alicia’s long blonde hair from inside her jacket’s collar. “You just forgot family’s here with you in all of this, that’s all.”

Alicia smiled, and hooked her arm in Jennifer’s, and they continued on to the facility, a three-story former museum. “I know, and I’m sorry.” She sighed, as if a great weigh was about to be lifted from her shoulders. “My husband and I are about to be parents for the first time. You are about to be an aunt.”

Jennifer looked up at Alicia as she continued. “We always dreamed of having kids, watching them grow up, watching them have kids, be successful. Now he’s about to be frozen for a crime he didn’t commit for fifty years.”

“We may never see each other again. Our children will probably be grandparents by the time he’s released. He’ll miss a large chunk of their lives. He’ll live longer than they will, too.”

Alicia stopped again, this time less than a block from the facility’s entrance. News reporters, photographers, and cameramen are gathered out front, awaiting word of the sentence. Jennifer stopped as well, looking at her with a puzzled look.

“Mike is somewhere in there, wondering the same thing,” said Alicia. “It will break his heart if he sees me hurting.”

A shout rose up from the group of media, as they spotted the two Coleman sisters on the sidewalk. A few broke from the pack, heading in their direction.

Alicia looked down at the ground as the media mob came closer, and then looked at her younger sibling with a look of determination.

“Today I’ll be his pillar of strength…as you were mine.”

*********

Teri Tanner, beat reporter for Channel 4, the local NBC affiliate in Washington, was reading her statement for her live broadcast. She approved the text for transfer to the teleprompter, and stood by the news van looking at the gathered crowd outside the correctional facility

The sentence was slated to be carried out at 11 a.m., and barring any problems, the cases containing the bodies of Admiral Sanders and General Austin would be moved by armed escort to Andrews Air Force Base twenty minutes away. From there they would be transported to Cape Canaveral, Florida, where the next available space shuttle will take them to the ISS for storage.

From the van Teri watched as Counselor Coleman-Sanders and a younger woman with long red hair walked out of the building, escorted by two Marines to their vehicle. Alicia paused long enough to hand a tall, handsome Naval officer a folded sheet of paper before departing.

“Teri, we’re on in two minutes,” said the cameraman, jumping out of the van and double-checking his tripod mount.

“Okay, thanks,” said Teri. She reached through the passenger door window for her notepad sitting in the seat, preparing to go over last minute notes.

“Excuse me, Miss Tanner?”

Teri turned around at the sound of the voice. It was the same Naval officer she saw not even two minutes ago. “Yes, may I help you?”

“Yes you can,” said the officer. He reached into the inside of his jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper, possibly the same paper Coleman-Sanders gave him.

“I have here a statement from the Sanders family. Mrs. Sanders noticed that you were here reporting, and she requested that you be given the chance to read this before it’s released to the rest of the media this afternoon.”

Teri unfolded the piece of paper. It barely covered a quarter of a page, typed, and single-spaced. “Um, Captain…”

“It’s Commander, ma’am. Commander Rabb.  I’m a friend of the family”

“Commander, maybe you can do something for me?”

The cameraman rushed up to Teri with a microphone in hand. “Fifteen seconds, Teri.” He thrusted the mike in her hands and went behind the camera.

“What can I do, ma’am?”

“Teri?” said the cameraman, a little nervous.

“Get me the exclusive with Alicia Sanders,” said Teri.

“Ten seconds.”

“She didn’t rule out talking to the media at a later date. I’ll have to relay your request to her.”

“All right.”

Teri turned around as the cameraman was counting “Five, four, three, two …”

Teri flashed a smile to the camera.  “Thanks, Paul. I’m standing less than a block away from the Naval Correctional Facility at the Washington Navy Yard, where the sentence has just been carried out on General Steve Austin, 36, former commanding general of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune, and Admiral Michael  Sanders, 33, former commander of the Federation Fleet, and Director of Personnel.

Both men were convicted earlier this month of nearly one hundred-fifty counts of murder in the so-called fiasco in Iraq last November, and three other charges.

Both men met with Father Clayton Ridges for prayer one hour before being escorted to the cryogenic chamber. General Austin, originally slated to go last, opted to go ahead, saying the admiral deserved a few more moments with his family.

General Austin was pronounced stabilized in suspended animation at 11:06 a.m. Admiral Sanders was prepared and stabilized in suspended animation at 11:18.

Sanders’ wife, Alicia Coleman-Sanders, could not be reached for comment, but she did leave a statement with me to read to our viewers. This same statement will be released to all this afternoon but this station is the first to have this on the air.”

Teri unfolded the paper and began reading silently to herself before looking up at the camera.  “This seems to be from the admiral himself,” she said.

“For over a year now I have been largely thinking when I went into Iraq, I went in and did the job to the best of my ability.

Many people did not like the way I did that job. I can’t say I liked it myself. I did not like it because Saddam Hussein’s death pushed our efforts to take over Iraq back three years.

Still, if I had an opportunity to do my job again, the only thing I would change is the fact that all of my Marines would have made it back. I would have gave the order myself for all the forces so Gen. Austin would not have to be in this predicament with me.

To my children; Alexandria, Alicia Nicole, and James Robert. I’m sorry I won’t be there to see you grow up into the special human beings I know you will be.  To my beautiful wife, my lover, my best friend. Watch over them.”

********

Three months later.

“Well, at least she picked a great time to come in,” said Dan Coleman, taking another swig from his Corona while looking at his youngest daughter. “Hardly anybody’s here.”

The two were sitting in a bar across from Gate 23A at Reagan-Clinton International Airport, awaiting the arrival of Alicia from yet possibly another fruitless trip to Yemen. This was her third one in two months, each time leaving with another clue that she hope would vindicate her husband and release from his prison in space, only to return empty-handed.

No one in the family knew Alicia was gone until three days ago, when Alicia sent a telegram to her parent’s house in Florida asking her father to meet her in Washington. Dan relayed the message to Jennifer, who just started preparing for her soccer season at UNC-Chapel Hill, and she decided, with her coach’s permission, to hitch a ride with her father to Virginia for the weekend.

Jennifer looked up from her study notes at her father with her “What the hell are you talking about” look that Dan has come to recognize and understand. “Dad, it’s 3:00 in the afternoon. This is the bewitching hour for travelers. A time when two or three hundred people at the same time decide
“This is when I want to fly.””

Looking out at the main passageway where streams of men, women, and children were either leaving a gate or heading towards one, all at high rates of speed, she rolled her eyes towards the ceiling of the bar. “This place is packed.”

Dan looked around as well, but not as interested as Jennifer was. “Yeah, I guess.” He turned his attention to his beer bottle, now almost empty.

“You got another ten minutes before her plane lands, Dad,” said Jen, glancing at a clock over the bar. “Go ahead if you want.”

Dan slid the beer bottle away. “It’s not that.” He turned to look at Jen. “Do you think she found something this time?”

Jen cocked her head to the side in thought for a few seconds. “I don’t know,” she said. “This is totally unlike her, though. The first two times she told people where she was going and had all her cards laid out on a table. This time we didn’t know jack.”

Dan nodded. “That’s right, and I don’t think she would put the babies in danger if she didn’t have some type of clear-cut evidence that would get Michael off.” He turned his attention to the crowd outside the bar. “She’s almost due, you know.”

“Yeah, I know, but I’m thinking that something is totally different about this whole trip.” Jen closed her study notes and placed them in her backpack. “Her housekeeper said she didn’t even notice any evidence of clothing taken, except a small backpack.”

Dan’s eyes widened in surprise. “That’s it?” he asked.

Jen nodded. “Yep, and she also told me that the day she left, she was going through some mail for about an hour. The housekeeper was outside smoking a cigarette when Alicia ran out of the house like a bat out of hell saying, “I’m going to the airport.” She thought she was going to pick up somebody.”

Dan heard the announcement on the loudspeakers blaring out the arrival of Flight 1030 from New York JFK to Washington — Alicia’s flight. He pulled out his wallet and fished out a five-dollar bill for his tab. Jen gathered her things as he placed the bill under the Corona bottle. Then he turned to his daughter.

“I hope, for all the risks she’s taking right now, that this time, this trip was worth it.”

Jen said nothing as they walked out of the bar and practically fought to cross the mass of people to get to the gate. By the time they had made it, the flight announcer had just opened the gate door where the first of the plane’s passengers began disembarking.

Dan scanned each face walking through the door until he focused on one he recognized. “Alicia!” he exclaimed.

Jen and Dan waited as Alicia, looking healthier than she ever looked in months, rushed up and grabbed them both in a tight embrace. “Oh my God, I didn’t think you would make it,” she said to her father as he reached down to kiss her cheek. She then turned to Jen. “And what are you doing here? I thought soccer was starting up soon.”

Dan saw the look before it even started forming on Jen’s face. “What do you mean, “What am I doing here?” Do you realize that you took off on one of your crazy trips three weeks away from your due date and without letting anybody know? Are you crazy?”

Alicia looked at her younger sister unfazed. “Yeah, but you will — ”

Jen was not done. “You’re carrying my nieces and nephewwithin you, Al.  Triplets.” By now she had pulled out of Alicia’s embrace and stood with her hands on her hips, squaring off.  “I know what you’re doing, but if you think for one second that I’m going to let you jeopardize their lives.”

“I got the proof,” Alicia blurted out.

Dan was still staring at Jen when Alicia managed to slide those words out, and the expression on Jen’s face shook him out of his reverie. He turned to Alicia. “You found it?”

Alicia nodded proudly.  “The one piece of evidence I’ve been needing for six months that no one could, or would come up with.”  She patted the large backpack she had slung over the shoulder.  “The surveillance footage for the Yemen stronghold.  It proves that Mike and Steve were in the right after all, and that they were fired upon first.”

Dan hugged his daughter, careful not to accidentally bump her swollen belly.  “How did you do it?”

Alicia glanced at her sister, still standing a few feet from them in shock, before replying.  “I made a contact on my first trip to Iraq back in December.  He used to work as an assistant to the chief of staff at the stronghold.  He wasn’t a witness to the battle because he was evacuated before the main fighting began.  He did remember that there was a security system that initially was supposed to deal with a small crowd, but we’re talking nearly two thousand people that day.  He’s been working to set up a new office space for the ambassador when he came across it.”

At that remark Jen spoke up.  “Wait a minute,” she said. “You had this tape for a week, and you’re just now getting home? What were you doing all this time?”

For the first time since she got off the plane, the eternal smile momentarily dropped from Alicia’s face.  “I’ll tell you all about it later.  I promise. And I’m sorry for worrying you, sis.”  She turned to her father.  “I’m sorry, Dad, but I got that letter in the mail saying we might have the evidence, I had to make sure that I saw it for myself and get it back here safely.  I took some other precautions just in case if I didn’t make it back, the evidence will still here.”

Alicia turned back to her sister, dropping her backpack to the floors as tears began welling up in her eyes. “It’s my dream to have my husband back here to see his daughters and son born. Born, Jen. Not when their kids are having kids. Not when I’m almost dead. No, he will be here when I give birth.”

Jen eyes lowered to the floor, and for a minute Dan saw his daughter exhaled sharply and sniffed a little. He knew that Jen was the tougher of his two offspring in terms of keeping their emotions in check, but it looked like she was finally going to crack.

Jen’s eyes abruptly rose to meet her sister’s gaze. “I’m sorry, Al. I just worry about you and the kids and all. I just want you to take time for yourself.”

Alicia smiled. “I’ll have plenty of time to do that once my husband is with me.” She reached out her hand, which Jen took, and they pulled each other in an embrace. Dan grasped one shoulder of each of his daughters and gave them a reassuring squeeze.

An unknown pair of eyes was watching them from the bar that Jen and Dan vacated earlier. He sat near the exit, slowly taking everything in as he sipped on coffee, and mentally storing it away. From the point when the Colemans walked into the bar. When they left. Sanders’s annoying bitch of a wife getting off her plane. Tapping her bag as she spoke.

The bag.

He pulled out his global and keyed a frequency. A two-second pause before he started speaking. Descriptions. Man, early fifties, grayish black hair, very tall. Wearing gray slacks, black turtleneck, and black overcoat. Young girl, probably nineteen, decked out in North Carolina Tar Heels sweat gear, with a black leather back pack. Long red hair pulled in a ponytail. Older woman, no older than thirty, long blonde hair. Very pregnant, but still has a shapely figure. Wearing jeans, gray turtleneck, and flannel jacket. The object is the large green backpack she is carrying

Man is driving a black Cadillac Escalade EXT with Florida license plate number COLE1.

The man listened for a few seconds before hanging up. Finishing his coffee, he left a few dollars besides the mug before rising from his chair and exiting the bar, giving the Colemans one last glance before walking towards the escalators for the upstairs level. Satisfied with the knowledge that Alicia Coleman-Sanders, her father, and sister will be dead by tomorrow, and fifty years from now, Admiral Michael Sanders will awaken to only find a plot of graves.

*****

“I forgot how cold it was here,” said Alicia, as she carefully made her way across the ice to the parking garage, holding her sister’s arm. Dan was following closely behind with their backpacks. “Dad, you all right back there?”

“Yeah, I guess your housekeeper wasn’t lying when she said she didn’t think you took that much clothes,” said Dan. “The heaviest thing is your sister’s bag.”

They crossed over to the parking garage to where Dan had parked his truck, when Alicia stopped suddenly “Damn!”

Jen turned to her sister. “What’s wrong?”

Alicia pointed. Two spots down from her father’s truck sat her Durango, possibly the cleanest vehicle in the entire garage considering it was inside during the snowstorm three weeks ago. “I forgot I drove myself down here. Now how am I gonna get it home?”

Dan made it up to them. “Already thought about it, which is why I parked here. Jen, drive your sister’s car. Alicia will ride with me.”

Alicia pulled out her keys and passed them to her sister. “Don’t worry about the gate. I know the guy in charge here. When Dad pays his bill…”

“Wait a minute,” said Dan, “if you know some guy, and if you’re riding in my car, then I shouldn’t have to pay as well, right?”

“I’m just joking, Daddy,” said Alicia, giving Dan’s cheek a playful pinch. “I’ll tell him you’re both with me.”

Dan had already started his truck with an automatic starter, opened the back door of his truck to place both bags there, and then walked around and opened the door for his oldest daughter to get in. Jen got in the Durango and cranked it up to get it warm.

Once Alicia got settled, he closed the door and walked over to the driver side of the Durango. Jen rolled down the window.

Dan was all of a sudden attacked by loud, blaring music that he couldn’t hear over the roar of the engine when the window was up. “Can you turn that down for a second, PLEASE?” he screamed.

Jen quickly turned down the music as Dan continued on. “Much better. Now, I know you have driven her car before, but just pay attention to the roads and keep close to us, OK?”

“C’mon, Dad, please, I’ve been driving all over this side of the country for a while now, okay?” It was the sound of a grown woman, Dan thought, but it was also the sound of thanks for caring.

“Okay, sweetheart. We’ll see you at the house.” Dan smiled and started to turn away before Jen grabbed his arm.

“Dad, can I go get a pizza for dinner?”

Dan looked at her. “There’s food at the house. Why do you want a pizza?”

“Dad, the Butcher of Soccer, Coach Pizella, has all of her players on a strict diet. No sweets, no junk food, and eight hours of sleep a night. I have withdrawals.”

Dan mulled it over for a minute, and slowly nodded. “I can’t believe I’m contributing to the Tar Heels’ losing season, but go ahead. Just don’t take too long.” He pulled out his wallet. “There’s a Pizza Hut just down Route 1 about a mile south of the airport,” he said as he handed her a twenty-dollar bill. “You can go there.”

Jen took the money and reached out to kiss her father on the cheek. “Thanks, Dad, I won’t be long.” She returned to the inside of the truck and rolled up the window.

Dan walked to his truck and got him. Beside him, Alicia was lying with the seat tilted back, her eyelids closed. He nudged her gently, and her eyes fluttered opened. “You okay?”

Alicia stifled a yawn and raised the seat to a more level position. “Yeah, it’s been a tough three months.” She smiled and rubbed her swollen tummy where her offspring rested.
“But it was all worth it.”

Dan smiled and shifted the truck to drive, and slowly pulled out of the parking spot, heading towards the exit. In his rearview mirror, he noticed his daughter pulling out and following closely behind.

The cars made it out to the parking garages gates and without incident, though it took a minute to find Alicia’s friend to wave them through. Once Dan made it out of the airport’s perimeter and turned on Route 1, he picked up a little speed.

“Are we in a hurry, or are you racing Jen again?” said Alicia.

Dan drove through a green light, reaching for his global to dial Jen. “No, she’s going to get a pizza right there,” he said, pointing at the Pizza Hut on the right side of the road. “She’ll meet us at the house a little later.”

The global made a connection, and a second later a slight beeping can be heard coming from the back seat. Dan turned around and groaned. “Her global’s in her bag. I hope she sees it.”

His fears quickly diminished as he spotted her in the rearview mirror flashing her right turn signal and pulling into the parking lot. He refocused his attention on the road.

“Shouldn’t we wait for her?” said Alicia. “I don’t know if she remembers her way back from here.”

“No, she’ll be all right. I know she has her wallet, and she has directions there, plus phone numbers in case she does get lost,” said Dan, as he pulled up to a red light.

For the first time, he noticed that there was no traffic out on Route 1, totally unheard of if anyone is familiar with the layout of the District of Columbia/Metropolitan area. Route 1 connects with I-395 to go north through Washington, and stretches as far south as Richmond, Virginia. Thousands of commuters travel the road everyday, even on the weekends.

But why not today? No traffic going north past them, and none following them going south. All that was behind them was an old, dilapidated van.

Oh, no.

Dan reached underneath his seat and pulled out a zippered pouch. Alicia watched as with expert finesse, he unzipped it and pulled out a Glock 19 pistol with an extra clip. “Damn, I wish she had her global.”

Alicia started to rise with alarm. “Dad, what’s wrong?”

Dan pulled the charger back to cede the first round, and placed the pistol in his lap. “I don’t know sweetheart, but hang on!”

Dan slammed his foot on the gas and peeled out into the intersection, and the action took less than a second before he slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting another van speeding from the right side of the intersection, cutting off their path.

“Shit!” whispered Dan through clenched teeth. From the gear the driver was wearing in the second van, he knew this was an ambush. He threw the truck into the reverse, but even before he could begin to turn around to see where he was going, the van behind him rammed him, hitting the truck on the back-left side. Not enough to push him clearly off the road, but sent in enough of a direction to not hit the van in the intersection.

By the time the truck came to a stop, six men, dressed from head to toe in black military gear, were standing in the intersection, each armed with MK117s, laser-sighted automatic machine-guns. They stopped ten feet from the truck and waited for signs of life.

The driver, a man in late forties, early fifties, slowly rose in view, obviously knocked to the side as the truck was hit from behind. Dazed, he looked around before focusing on the six figures in black.

One of them, the leader from his built and stature, took one step forward and raised his rifle. At that signal, the other five raised theirs also.

Dan looked down at his daughter, knocked unconscious but alive, beside him. A tear fell from his eyes, knowing that her hard work to get her husband back led to this.

*****

Jen had just ordered her pizza and went outside to enjoy the cold February air. Large stuff-crusted sausage and pepperoni. She knew she’ll pay dearly if her coach ever finds out.

She reached into the inside of her jacket pocket for something else she knew she’ll pay for if her family finds out. Fishing the pack of cigarettes she has been craving since yesterday, she opened it up and pulled out one, and also the pack of matches in the plastic. She struck the match against the cover and quickly brought the flame to the cigarette before she heard a spray of audible “pops.”

Growing up with a highly placed retired Central Intelligence Agency operative for a father and possibly the most decorated Federation officer in history for a brother-in-law, you learn a couple of things, such as recognizing the sound of gunfire.

Frowning, she went all the way to the sidewalk parallel of Route 1 and looked north towards the airport. Puzzled as to the lack of traffic on a mid-Saturday afternoon, she turned to face south.

She thought she saw a black truck less than a mile down. A truck that looks just like her father’s. She could make out two vans, one directly in front of the truck, and another one behind and to the left of it.

She thought she could make out one or two figures walking around the truck, the back end with the look of a train wreck.

Shots rang out again. Jen ducked down instinctively, coming to a grim realization.

“Oh, no.”

Jen threw her cigarette down and ran to her sister’s truck. She prayed that what she was looking for was still in the back where Michael left it.

The satchel he brought back from Mexico to hold his weapons collection was in the back. Without even thinking she grabbed a Beretta and slapped a magazine in the well, and decided to throw one of Michael’s special weapons up front. She was pulling the charging handle back to cede the first round as she made her way to the driver seat and cranked up the truck. She knew that she could never get off accurate shots with her left hand but she could probably run whoever is up at that intersection away from her father and sister.

The truck leaped out of the parking lot, knowing that somehow traffic was being held off for a reason, and cut the car sharply right, accelerator pressed to the floor.

As she got closer, she could see the black figures more closely and in detail, each dressed like some military organization with combat gear. Some with their rifles at the ready while others were pointed at the ground, momentarily shocked at the site of another vehicle on the road flying in their direction.

No matter. Jen steered with her right hand as the left guided the Beretta out of the window, trying to remember her father’s training when it comes to shooting out of a moving vehicle.

Her first two shots obviously had an effect, as she saw one member of the team jerked his head back and fell on his back spread eagle to the ground, hands slowly rubbing his head. The second shot made the others jump back a foot or two and rethink their strategy of standing in the open.

Well, almost all of them had a second thought.

The largest one slung his rifle over his shoulder and reached for a long, silver tube, about two feet long, hanging from his hip. From Jen’s point of view, it looked like a shiny, but simple metal bar.

Jen involuntarily glanced at the smaller “shiny, but simple metal bar” sitting in the passenger seat beside her. To an ordinary being, it will look simple, but only a select few know the artistic and dangerous value of a lightsaber. It will cut off a hand or a leg and cauterized the wound at the same time. It can slice through just about anything known to man. Even a Jeep Durango.

Jen slowed down almost to a dead stop to get a better aim at the black-masked figure, but the man stretched out his hand and the pistol was snatched out of Jen’s hand and thrown twenty feet away. Jen looked at her empty hand in shock before it hit her. This guy has Mike’s powers!

Before she could reach back for another weapon out of the satchel, Jen felt the truck lurched upwards with a violent yank. She looked out of the window and saw the ground below her at least twenty feet, and the single masked figure, hand outstretched, in total control. All around her, she could see over buildings and stores, and she also had a better view of her father’s truck, but could detect no movement inside from her vantage point.

“Bastard!” was all Jen could say through clenched teeth. Mike never mentioned that there were more people out there just like him. She climbed into the back seat and grabbed the satchel, eyeing a grenade temptingly, but decided against it, remembering the telekinetic ability that monster has. She spotted a phaser pistol and grabbed it.

As the vehicle began spinning left to right slowly to where she could aim directly out of the window, she fired.

The deadly-hot stream, despite Jen’s lack of aim, headed towards the man in black. Jen thought she had him dead to rights but the man brought his tube level with the ground and twin beams ejected from both ends, a meter long from shaft to tip. He immediately spun the double-edged saber like a baton and the bolt deflected away from him, redirected back at the truck. The entire action took less than a second.

The beam hit the front end of the truck with the force of a megaton bomb, slamming Jen against the back of the driver seat. She screamed in pain as her right shoulder connected with it at an awkward angle, and felt it snap like a twig. She managed to maintain a grip on her phaser, and despite the pain she was in, she raised herself up to fire again.

Before she could gain her bearings, everything not strapped down in the truck began rushing up as though they were being tossed in the air by a large group. The buildings were rushing pass, and….

***********

Jen knew she was in trouble as soon as she opened her eyes.

The truck was obviously totaled, both by the phaser blast and the twenty-foot drop from nowhere. Her right shoulder felt worst than ever, but her back was overwhelming even that unwelcomed pain.

Somehow she had did major damage to her back before landing on the backseat. Judging from the massive headache she had, she figured her head collided with the door, forcing her to black out.

Merciful.

Thankfully, the truck had landed upright, but now a little lower than it was when she was driving. No doubt the tires were all flattened by the impact. All of the glass in the truck had shattered. The sunroof and a good chunk of the rook were torn away.

And that was when she saw him.

Standing tall, black hood and mask concealing all but his yellow eyes, and carrying his deactivated double-edged saber, was the mastermind of this entire plan. He looked down on her from the hood of the truck, eyes unblinking, uncaring.

Jen, despite the amount of pain she was in, tried to sit up. If she was going to die, she wasn’t going to die lying down. Her back screamed in torment, and she conceded, instead taking the satisfaction of staring back defiantly at her family’s assailant.

The masked figure stared back for a moment, and finally spoke. “You fought with honor, young woman.”

Momentarily surprised, Jen was brought back to reality by the memory of her father’s truck still in the intersection. “What did you do to my family?”

The man said nothing. He reached into a trouser pocket and pulled out a global.  He tossed it down to Jen.

“Call yourself an ambulance,” he said as he jumped off the truck.

“Wait!” Jen screamed, but she received no response. Groaning with agony, she picked up the phone, and with clammy hands, began to dial. Her initial instincts told her the phone might be a bomb, but now or later, if she does not get medical attention, it will not matter.

As she heard the squealing of tires, she reached over her head and grabbed the door handle for the back seat. As she did that, a flash of pain overcame her, knocking her into unconsciousness once more.

************

A gloved hand reached into the truck for the global, still clenched in Jen’s left hand. He pulled the phone free, and checked Jen’s pulse. He stayed like that for a minute, head cocked to the side as if remembering an old song from a time long ago.

Satisfied, he opened the global and pressed a button. “Arlington County 911,” the female operator announced through the speaker.

“Yeah, I just rolled up here on Route 1 past the Interstate Shopping Center, and this Durango looked as if it was dropped from the sky,” said the man, in as much of a hippie voice as he could muster through his mask. “All the windows were shattered, the tires — what tires? And there’s this girl sitting in the back seat. She’s alive, but barely.” He closed
the phone up before he could be asked any questions.

The man threw the global back in the truck and turned around to walk to the van pulling towards him. Already the sirens could be heard in the distance, coming closer, and a few cars were making their way from both directions to the intersection. He jumped in the passenger seat, and the van, instead of going north or south, headed straight through the intersection as if that was its original destination before the shootout.

The man looked back at his work, nodding with satisfaction but sorry that he had to kill three defenseless people. Correction, two defenseless people, he noted, as he remembered the fiery young redhead who while no match for him, managed to take out one of his men a hundred feet away in a moving vehicle, and almost managed to take him out with a phaser. It was probably a mistake to let her live, but it was the honorable thing to do, he thought, as he took one last glance in the rearview mirror at the carnage he left behind.

What he failed to notice was the small hand slowly reaching out of the passenger side through the window. Blood shining in the afternoon sun, it paled in comparison to the reflection from the diamond wedding on her left hand.

**********

Master Gunnery Sergeant Raymond Torres, USMC, returned to his house covered in a sheet of sweat, despite the 35-degree weather. The scowl on his face became even more evident every time he looked at his stopwatch. “Four seconds under my normal time,” he muttered as he stepped into the kitchen. “I need a new damn watch.”

Anita Torres was already in the kitchen. A slim, petite woman with long, dark hair, she was standing by the coffeemaker in a long silk bathrobe, waiting on the first pot of the morning. “You took long enough,” she said, not even looking at him. “I thought you got kidnapped.”

“Ha ha, very funny, senorita’,” said Torres. “When the java’s gonna be ready?”

Anita had just picked up the pot and begun pouring into two mugs waiting on the counter. “After you take your shower.”

Torres came up behind her and slowly massaged her shoulders and neck. “Only if you scrub my back. You know I have problems with that.”

Anita snickered. “Well, aren’t you greedy? Wasn’t last night good enough for you?” She turned around and handed him a cup of coffee. “That’s why your three-mile run was so slow today.”

Torres took the cup with a thoughtful expression on his face. “Well, that tears it. No more sex for me.”

Anita laughed and handed him the television remote, giving him a peck on the cheek. “I’ll revoke the shower for now, but I’m going to get breakfast started soon.”

Torres took the remote and coffee and moved to the kitchen table while Anita started going through the refrigerator for breakfast items. He thumbed the remote and turned the channel to the news.

The newscaster was talking about something that happened yesterday afternoon on Route 1. He turned the volume up and moved to get some sugar from the bowl beside the coffee maker.

“No witnesses were found in the apparent ambush. One survivor, 18-year-old Jennifer Coleman of Pensacola, Florida, is in critical but stable condition. Her sister, Alicia
Coleman-Sanders, wife of convicted Federation officer Admiral Michael Sanders, is in serious condition. The fate of her unborn children, triplets, is unknown at this time.”

Anita was engrossed in her work until she jumped at the sound of glass breaking against the floor. She turned around with a start and looked at her husband.

Torres was standing, facing her, coffee mug now shattered on the kitchen floor, totally shocked. He turned to the television as the newscaster continued.

“Coleman-Sanders, a famous attorney who has gained prestige as her husband’s defense council several months ago, had just returned from a trip to Yemen yesterday before the attack. Local authorities are investigating with the cooperation of the military. Once again, one dead, and two critically injured in what was obviously an unprovoked attack.”

Anita watched as Torres moved to the home monitor and started dialing in a well-dialed frequency. Silence ruled for just a second before he started speaking. “Harm? it Ray. I’m sorry to bother you but something terrible has happened.”

*********

Commander Harmon Rabb, USN, Judge Advocate General office, rushed into the emergency section of the hospital in street clothes, looking left and right for any face that he would recognize until his gaze fell on Raymond Torres.

Torres was standing by the emergency ward section talking with a doctor Harm didn’t recognize. He saw Harm and waved him over.

“Harm, thanks for coming,” he said, shaking his hand.

“Thanks for calling,” said Harm, turning to the doctor. “Commander Rabb, JAG Corps.”

“Commander Wyatt,” said the doctor, looking as if he has done double shifts and in no mood for pleasantries. “Commander, the master guns can fill you in. I have to get back to my patients.” He nodded and went back into the ward.

Rabb turned to Torres. “What happened?”

Torres turned and pointed outside to a Arlington County sheriff’s patrol car sitting outside, its two occupants barely distinguishable inside. “The first one on the scene in
Arlington is here. I barely had a chance to talk to him before the doctor came out, but from what the deputy told me, it was a war zone out there.”

Harm stared at Torres in disbelief. “But why? And who?”

Torres shrugged his shoulders. “I have no idea, but Alicia left me a message a couple of days ago to meet up with her today at noon at her house. She said she had something that might clear Mike and General Austin.”

Harm weighed all of this, piecing everything together. “Any witnesses?”

“Jennifer, but she was banged up bad. Broken back, right collarbone broken, left leg broken. She was driving Alicia’s car.” He fished a picture and passed it to Harm. “Here’s what it look like.”

Harm winced at the sight of the photo. “What the hell happened? Was Alicia in that car?”

“No, she was riding with her father.” Torres paused before continuing. “Dan Coleman is dead, Harm.”

Harm looked up from the photo back at Torres. “What? I didn’t even know he was up here.”

“Me neither. I didn’t know until I asked the staff, because they had said on the news that one was dead, and I didn’t know who that person was. I barely was able to catch the entire segment.”

Torres turned away from Harm to stare outside for a few seconds before continuing. “They frame my best friend, send him off in a ice cube for fifty years, and now his father-in-law is dead, and they don’t expect his wife to survive.”

Harm reached out to give his friend a reassuring squeeze on his shoulder. “Ray, we’re going to find the people who did this.” He shook Torres gently until he turned around to look each other in the eye. “I promise you, we will find them.”

Harm looked around and saw the two Virginia officers walking into the hospital. “Get as much information from these two as you can,” he said, pulling his wallet out. “I need to make a phone call.”

**********

Ow, thought Jen as she awoke to a bright light. It was not the same bright light as it was when the masked character was standing over her…

With a start, she looked around and saw that she was not sitting in the backseat of the Durango, and that the bright light was the fluorescent bulbs from the ceiling.

And that the handsome man sitting in the chair at the foot of her bed was not the masked man.

Harm got up and walked to the side of her bed. “Hi, kiddo,” he said, softly brushing a strand of hair from her eyes. “How are you feeling?”

Jen looked back with a dumbfounded look on her face. “Harm?” She looked around again before focusing back on him. “Where am I?” Jen tried to sit up, but a shooting agony rode up and down her spine, forcing her back down again.

Harm rested his hand on her shoulder. “You need to take it easy and rest. Your injuries are quite severe. The doctor didn’t know if you were going to pull through at first.” His hand moved from her shoulder to her left hand. “I’m glad you’re all right, though,” he said, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze.”

Jen looked back at Harm, calmed down but with obvious questions. “Harm, answer this question for me, and no joke. Where are my father and sister?”

Harm looked at her for a minute struggling with his words, but decided to tell the truth. Jen was not one to fool with, and this was the time to be straightforward. “Alicia is falling in and out of a coma. She has major internal bleeding and the doctors are racing to stop it. The triplets, as far as they know, are safe.”

Jen closed her eyes and exhaled softly, but then opened up back up and continued to look at him expectantly.

Harm stared back until he could do it no more and lowered his head. “I’m sorry, Jen. Your father didn’t make it.”

Harm’s head remained lowered, not able to look at Jen’s face until he felt a squeeze on his hand from her. He raised his head.

Tears were beginning to form up on the rims of Jen’s eyes, but he knew they would not form while he was in the room. Not yet. “Has anyone called my mother?”

“Ray Torres did about an hour ago. Colonel McKenzie is in Florida right now, so we’re making arrangements to fly your mother and a few of your relatives here to Virginia on Mac’s plane. You’ll be able to see your mother by this evening.” He paused for a second, not sure how to frame what he wanted to say to honor her father, but he continued, hoping the words would sound stronger than he felt saying. “If it matters much, your father sacrificed himself by taking the brunt of the shooting. He saved Alicia.”

Jen seemed to be staring through Harm by now. “Thanks, Harm.” She slowly pulled free from his grasp to rest her free hand by her immobilized one, sitting in a sling across her chest. “Can you do me a favor and get me a global?”

Harm did as she asked, pulling his out of his pocket and sitting it in her hand. “If there’s anything else you need, I’ll be here,” he said as he moved towards the door.

Jen nodded. “Thanks, Harm. Thanks for everything.”

When Harm closed the door, the tears began to flow.

***********

“No, Commander, you did the right thing,” said Admiral A.J. Chegwidden, USN, JAG Corps, global in hand as he stepped off the elevator to the passageway leading to the Office of the Federation Supreme Commander. “You and Colonel McKenzie knew them better than most of us. Plus despite the circumstances, Admiral Sanders is technically still a part of the armed forces, and every courtesy should be extended to his family during these times.”

He continued listening while strolling past paintings of past Federation commanders and officers, pausing at one portraying his long-time friend and comrade, James T. Kirk. A sadness he had not felt in a long time crept into his being.

“Sir?  What’s wrong?”

“What? Oh, nothing, Commander. Just reminiscing a little bit,” he said, continuing to his destination. “Listen, I’m at the Supreme Commander’s office right now. Give me an half-hour and call me back with whatever word you have.”

“Aye, sir.”

Chegwidden shut down his opening the door to the office.

The office had six desks spread throughout the area, with several small hallways leading to other offices and exits. A Marine lieutenant, impeccably dressed in a long-sleeved khaki shirt, blue trousers with the red blood stripe down the seam, sat at a desk closest to the double doors facing the outer lobby. He immediately rose to attention as Chegwidden stepped in.

“Good morning, sir. The Supreme Commander is expecting you. May I get you something to drink?”

“Whatever the Commander is drinking at this time, Lieutenant, thank you.” Chegwidden walked to the double doors and turned the knob to enter.

The office was long as it was wide. Sofas were lined on either side of the long rug stretching from the door to the two chairs and the desk at the other end.

The occupant of the desk rose from his chair while talking on the telephone. He waved Chegwidden forward while conversing with whoever it was on the other end. He tried to pay as little attention as possible to the conversation, but it was hard to ignore the number of times “sir” was said.

“Fine, sir. I’ll make sure all of the necessary people are made aware of your directives … Thank you, sir.”

The man hung up the phone, at which point Chedwidden allowed the looseness to fall out of his posture and came completely to attention, but the man waved it off. “A. J.,” he said with a wink in his stare. “It’s Sunday.” He gestured to a chair just behind Chegwidden.

Chegwidden nodded and sat down while the man took his seat being his desk, staring at the admiral. “I appreciate you coming on such short notice, A. J.”

“Well, sir, if it’s one thing that I know the Supreme Commander likes to do is to get all the crap out of the way quickly, so we can waste our time with the stuff that matters.”

John Franklin Knox, a fit, middle-age man with the look of no-nonsense authority mixed with the gray of fighting wars on battlefields and behind desks, nodded once at Chegwidden. “My feelings exactly. I’m in the middle of writing a speech for an dinner engagement I have tonight, but I have some sort of writer’s block. Tom had better … oh, here he is.”

The Marine lieutenant walked into the office with two tumblers of a dark brown liquid. He gave one first to the Supreme Commander and the other to Chegwidden. “Will you be needing anything else, sir?”

Knox looked at his watch. “No, thank you, Tom. I’m going to be ready to leave in about an hour, so make sure security is aware of that. No later than 1415.”

“Yes, sir. By your leave, gentlemen.” The lieutenant walked out of the office, closing the door behind him.

Chegwidden took a sip of his tumbler. Jack Daniels’. “Writer’s block drink, sir?”

Knox grinned. “Anything to form a sentence on paper, A. J.” The grin slowly faded. “I know why you’re here.”

“So you’ve heard about what happened.”

“I saw the news flash this morning. A damn shame. My heart goes out to the family.” Knox got up and stared out of his window overlooking the edge of Arlington National Cemetery. “The first thing I thought about is the first thing you and your people probably thought about, too.”

Chegwidden couldn’t resist any longer. He had to know. “Sir, were you talking to the President?”

Knox turned to look at Chegwidden. “The President called me. Seconds before I could pick up the phone, Tom walks up in here saying that he’s on line two for me.”

“What were the results of the conversation, if I may ask, sir?”

Knox turned and looked over his shoulder out of the window for a second before returning his gaze on Chegwidden. “Sanders stays where he is.”

Chegwidden stared back at the Supreme Commander in disbelief, speechless as Knox continued. “The President feels, as I do, that if Sanders was released temporarily and finds out what happened, he will want to find who did this to his family and become a flight risk. It’s been three months since he and Austin were sent up there. Things are still touchy overseas. It’s too big a chance to take.”

Chegwidden set his drink down on the desk and looked at Knox. “Sir, this entire country owes it to this man to at least inform him that his family was brutally gunned down. I can’t believe this!”

Knox stared at Chegwidden. “I fought with the President for almost a half-hour about it, A. J. Believe me, if I can get him out of that block of ice, I’ll fly up there in a shuttle and bring him back myself.” He sighed. “The President’s points are sound, however. We cannot afford another incident from that man.”

Chegwidden nodded and stood up at attention. “Sir, professionally, I concur with the decision made by the President, and endorse your approval. Personally, I think it’s a damn shame.” He turned and walked towards the door with Knox staring at him. “A damn shame indeed.”

**********

Lieutenant Col. Sarah MacKenzie, USMC, JAG Corps, walked into the emergency ward’s waiting area, dressed in her Service “A” uniform. A tall woman with short blonde hair, wearing a black overcoat over a white sweater and tan slacks followed her.

Mac looked around the room; nearly empty saved the staff at the front desk. She almost walked up to the desk when the door to the ward opened, admitting Commander Rabb and Master Gunnery Sergeant Torres.

“Rabb,” said Mac. She and the older lady walked over to the men. “Any news?”

Rabb nodded, looking at the lady behind Mac. “Maggie, I can’t say how sorry I am about Dan.” He took her hand in both of his as he kissed her cheek.

“Thank you, Harm. Ray.” She looked around at everyone gathered around her. “And thank you all for getting me up here so fast. I really do appreciate it.”

“It was the least we could do.” Harm looked at Torres and Mac before continuing. “We really need to talk…about Alicia.”

Maggie’s eyes widened slightly but Rabb quickly continued. “She’s still slipping in and out of a coma, but there’s a decision to be made about the babies.” He gently took her arm and led her to a chair away from Mac and Torres who started talking about something else. They both sat down.

Rabb looked at the floor for a second before focusing on Maggie.  “Alicia has internal bleeding. The doctors have been working for hours to try to stop it, but no luck. They’re saying it’s a miracle she’s still alive.”

“How are the babies?”

“The babies are safe. So far. The womb was penetrated by a bullet, which is why they’re working to keep it from becoming infected.” Rabb paused. “They’re not giving her a good chance to survive labor.”

Maggie slowly took all of the news in. “What are our options?”

“Emergency C-section. Unfortunately, that will involve a great loss of blood.  The doctors don’t give her a great shot of surviving that, either, but it gives the babies a chance.”

“Can I talk to her?”

Rabb glanced over at Torres, who was standing with Mac and Commander Wyatt. “Commander, is she conscious?”

Wyatt looked back. “Yes, she is. And more coherent, too.” He looked over at Maggie. “Are you her mother, ma’am?”

“Yes. Can I see my daughters?”

“Follow me.”

***********

Maggie walked into the room alone, Rabb choosing to stand just outside the door. She slowly stepped up to the bed where her oldest daughter rested.

Except for the constant chirping of the machines encompassing the bed, Alicia almost looked like she was asleep. There were no bruises on her face, and her blonde hair looked longer than the last time she had saw it. The only disturbing reminder of her predicament was the tubes running up and down her arm, and under her gown.

Maggie slid a chair close to the bed and sat down, reaching through the side rails to grasp her daughter’s hand. She bent her head and cried.

She felt the hand move slightly, and looked up. Through her tears, she saw Alicia staring back at her. “Mom?”

“Yes, baby, I’m here.” She got up and reached over to kiss her on her temple. “I came as fast as I could.”

“I’m going to die, am I?”

“Of course not, dear. You are not going to die.” Maggie shook her head. “I will not lose you. You have so much to live for.”

Alicia closed her eyes for a second, and Maggie thought she fell back into a coma again, but they reopened a few seconds later. “No, the kids come first, Mom.” Her voice lowered to a whisper. “Tell the doctor to do the C-section.”

“Alicia, there has to be another way.”

“Mom, please.”

Maggie looked at her oldest child for a lifetime. “Alicia, in the blink of an eye I lost my dear husband, and my two children were nearly killed. I cannot afford to lose you.”

“You won’t, Mom.” Alicia smiled and squeezed Maggie’s hand. “Not while you have these.” She glanced at her belly. “Please, Mom. Don’t do this for me. Don’t do this for Mike. Do this for them.”

Maggie looked back at Alicia, remembering all the memories she had stored up of this bright young woman. Her first step. Her first birthday. The day she broke her arm riding a horse for the first time. Her first date. High school graduation. Law school. Whirlwind romance with a Federation officer and war hero. Announcing the engagement. The wedding. Her pregnancy.

“I love you so much, sweetheart.”

“I love you, too, Mom.”

**********

“So they’re not going to release him?” said Jen as she was wheeled to Alicia’s room. Torres was pushing the chair, Mac following close behind.

Torres nodded. “I just talked to the Admiral a while ago. He had just gotten offline with the Commandant of the Marine Corps trying to drum up support for this, but no such luck. Obviously the Joint Chiefs and Starfleet Command doesn’t like the idea, but they’re not about to tell the President that.”

“I see the President’s point in all this, and it is a valid one,” said Mac. You have a man who was convicted of causing an international incident. He was sentenced after being tried. If he’s let out and finds that his entire family was gunned down because of him, he will want to find those who are responsible. Mike is a human wrecking machine. He will probably cause another incident which will have serious ramifications.”

Torres glanced back at Mac. “So he stays on ice for five decades, get out and walk up to a plot in Arlington where he can find his family.” He turned his eyes forward. “Ridiculous.”

The group rounded a corner and found Rabb squatting, trying to comfort Maggie, sitting in a chair, crying hysterically.

“Mom!” yelled Jen.

Maggie looked over at Jen and got up, quickly covering the few steps to gently embrace her daughter. “Oh, baby. I’m sorry I didn’t go to see you. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine, Mom, and I would have sent you out of my room if you hadn’t seen Alicia first.” Jen looked past Rabb at the door behind him. “Is she in there?”

Rabb nodded. “Sorry, kiddo. She’s being prepped for surgery.”

“Surgery? What–is something wrong with one of the kids?”

Rabb walked over and laid a hand on Jen’s wheelchair armrest. “No, we’re hoping something will be right.”

**********

“Negative, Bud. You stay right where you are. Colonel MacKenzie and Commander Rabb are there, as well as Master Gunny Torres. They have all the support they need for now.”

Chegwidden continued to listen as Bud continued speaking while trying to pour a glass of water for himself in the process.  “Would it be all right if we sent some flowers to the hospital, sir?”

“Of course you can send flowers. I’m quite sure the family would appreciate that…. Bud, I’m going to have to let you go. I have another call on video conferencing. We’ll talk tomorrow. Tell Harriet I said welcome back. Good night.”

Chegwidden walked over to the videoconference stand and pressed a button before placing the receiver in the cradle. He pressed another button and the text “Bethesda, Maryland” appeared for a few seconds before it faded into a visual of what appeared to be a waiting room. A familiar face stared back at him.

“Commander,” said Chegwidden, sliding into a chair for a better view.” How is everybody holding up?”

Rabb stared back at him, voiceless for a few seconds before replying. “An emergency C-section was done, sir. Maggie Coleman gave it the green light. We also managed to track down more of Alicia’s plasma for the surgery. The babies are healthy and safe, but…” Rabb’s voice trailed off.

Chegwidden leaned closer. “Commander, what’s wrong?”

Rabb backed up a few steps, allowing Colonel MacKenzie to step into view. “Good evening, Admiral.”

“Mac, what’s wrong?”

Mac looked back at Rabb, who by now had started crying. Torres was sitting beside him, patting him on the shoulder. The admiral could not see what was going on but can obviously hear it. “Sir, the babies are safe and sound. Unfortunately, there were some complications with the surgery which were expected. Alicia lost a great deal of blood, and the doctors have lost all hope. Jen and her mom are in there now…saying goodbye.”

Chegwidden sat back, dumbfounded. “Colonel, you do what needs to be done for Maggie Coleman. The three of you take tomorrow off. Bud and Harriet are back in town and can cover for you two.”

“Yes, sir. Anything else, sir?”

Chegwidden paused before replying. “Tell them how sorry I am. Tell them that for me.” He pressed the disconnect button before the tears came.

***********

Mac could not believe she couldn’t find a parking spot close to the chapel despite her early arrival. Then she saw them.

At least twenty news trucks, parked all the way up to the gate leading to the cemetery, were in full swing to get ready for airing the funeral. Reporters were already in front of cameras talking about the circumstances that led to Alicia’s death Sunday night. Of course no one should know that because the doctors gave their word no news would leak out.

Somebody broke that word, it seems.

Mac finally found a clear patch of spots behind the chapel. As she pulled in one and cut the car off, another car, an Escalade SUV, pulled in beside her. The admiral’s car.

She got out, placed her cover and adjusted her uniform while Chegwidden walked over to her side. As soon as he was in view, she snapped to attention and salute. “Good afternoon, sir.”

Chegwidden returned the salute. “Colonel, what the hell is going on out there? Why is the media circus here?”

“Admiral, I swear to you, I have no idea, but I’m going to find out.” Mac started to walk around to the front of the chapel but Chegwidden stopped her.

“No need. I’ve talked to the chaplain on my global and he assures me that no media will be allowed inside. You can do me a favor and called the admin folks at the cemetery to let them know the situation and tell them no media within a hundred yards of the gravesite.”

“Consider it done, sir.” Mac started to walk away as another car pulled up, a somewhat familiar woman driving to the other side of Chegwidden’s. Mac looked at the admiral, who shrugged.

The car shut off and the driver side opened and closed. The person stepped into view with a smile. “Colonel MacKenzie. How nice to see you again.”

Mac rolled her eyes to the sky. “Teri Tanner. I hope you don’t think you are going to the funeral with your camera crew because you have another thing coming.”

Teri held up her hands in the defensive. “Colonel, you think too low of me. Actually, I was hoping you would be here. I need to talk to you about something. Something I think only JAG would be able to handle.” She turned to Chegwidden. “I’m also not here to cover this story, but to actually attend the funeral.  Commander Rabb was kind enough to invite me. Alicia was after all my friend, even for only a short amount of time.”

Chegwidden looked at Teri in silence, but Mac spoke up. “What is it you need to talk to me about?”

“Well, Alicia called me last Thursday night from the airport where she was flying out of. She told me she found evidence that could prove Admiral Sanders and General Austin’s innocence.”

“We know that already. Alicia’s sister Jennifer said that she brought it back with her, but it was obviously taken after the shooting.”

“No, that was a recording. Alicia pulled a disc of different footage on it and brought that with her just in case.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a disc and a folded piece of paper. “This is the original. I got it in the mail yesterday with this note.” She handed Mac both items.

Mac unfolded the paper and read the note. “Well, this would explain what Jen was talking about when she said that Alicia found the footage a week before she left Yemen, but she spent the time making a dub and sending it to you.” She passed the note to Chegwidden and examined the tape. “Have you taken a look at this?”

“No, which is why I’m giving it to you because you will know how to follow up on this.”

Mac passed the disc back to Teri. “You hold on to it, then. When we’re done here, you can come back to JAG and watch it there.” She looked at Chegwidden. “Is that OK?”

Chegwidden nodded. “We will need some experts to collaborate the events on the tape, but I think the master guns can gather them up for us.”

Mac nodded. “All right.” She and the admiral started walking to the front, and noticed that Teri was still standing there. “Hey, I thought you were going to the funeral.” She waved her along.

************

“We are here today, united, to celebrate the life of Alicia Renee’ Coleman Sanders,” the chaplain said. “We are not mourning her passing, or remembering the circumstances for why we are gathered in this place. We are here to remember the person that was Alicia.”

Mac, Teri, Rabb, Torres and his wife Anita, and Chegwidden sat in the row behind Maggie and her younger sister Sandra and her husband David, who flew in from California the day before. Jen sat in a wheelchair in the aisle beside her mother, holding her hand.

“We will now have testimonials by some of her friends, the people who knew her best. Commander Rabb.” The chaplain gestured in Rabb’s direction.

Rabb stood and walked to the lecturn, pausing briefly by the silver casket in front of the pulpit.  A picture of Alicia, in her wedding dress as she stood beside her father, rested on a stand. He touched it lightly before climbing the steps to the vacated lectern and faced the crowd, briefly glancing in the direction of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sitting on the opposite side of the chapel, and his gaze fell on a face he thought he would not see here.

The President of the United States.

Rabb quickly gathered himself and focused his attention on the crowd. “Alicia and I went to law school together,” he said. “We became good friends when she was having a rough time with our corporate law series. I took the time to help her out with that. I looked at her as my little sister.”

Maggie and Jen looked up at Rabb as he continued. “When I made the decision to accept a Navy commission and become a pilot, she took one look at me and said ‘So you have to live out your Top Gun fantasy, huh?’

The crowd laughed at that remark. Even Maggie smiled briefly. “So I signed up, and started going to flight school in Pensacola. Since Alicia was from Florida, we hung out a lot. A lot of people ask why we never married. I always told them I can’t marry my little sister.”

“During my training, I met a Federation officer by the name of Michael Sanders. Probably the best friend a man could ever have. He was going through simulation training for space fighters they were putting on several starships. I brought him to a party Alicia was throwing to celebrate Jen’s soccer championship.”

“That decision was one I never regretted, because there were things I knew I could never give Alicia that I knew Michael could, and they were a perfect match from the start. I was happy that they were engaged, I was happy that they were married, and I’m happy that because of that union, they have three healthy, beautiful children.”

“But unfortunately, I’m not happy today. Two people separated forever for crimes they committed. One is lying before us in this casket. The crime? To free her husband. The other is frozen a million miles in space. The crime?”

He stared at the President as he spoke. “To keep this country free.”

The President stared at Rabb in silence as he stepped away from the lectern and walked down the steps towards his seat, stopping long enough to whisper an apology to Jen and Maggie before walking to the back of the church, pushing the door to the outer lobby area.

He stood back there as one of Alicia’s former associates stepped to the lectern but his attention was more focused on his pacing from one side of the lobby to the other.

“Commander?”

Rabb turned to the voice’s direction. The Secretary of the Navy stood at the door, having slipped in so quietly Rabb did not hear him.

“Good afternoon, sir. Sir, if you excuse me…”

“A moment of your time, Commander.” The Secretary stepped fully into the lobby, closing the door softly behind him. “If you please.”

Rabb sat down on the small cushioned bench indicated by the Secretary, who sat down beside him with his fingers steepled, pointing to the marble floor. “Commander, I know you are upset about the fact that Admiral Sanders was not released, but I just want you to know that you got the wrong guy.”

“Sir, with all due respect, the President issued the order to Supreme Commander Knox. Admiral Chegwidden was there when he told him.”

“Yes, he did. He did so at my request.”

Rabb sat back at this revelation. “Why, sir?”

“The President was all ready to release Sanders for forty-eight hours under constant guard. I was also, but early last week we received Intel reports of Yemen terrorists in the area. We didn’t know of their intentions until Sunday when we learned of the shooting. At that time I advised the President that Admiral Sanders should not be released. At least for now.”

“Their intentions?”

“Whatever Mrs. Sanders brought back with her on that trip, they wanted back. Evidence that would clear her husband.”

“Oh, that. Well, sir, we have the evidence.”

The Secretary looked back at Rabb in disbelief. “But from your report you filed with A.J., I thought it was taken at the time of the shooting.”

Rabb shook his head. “That was correct, sir. But a reporter friend of Mrs. Sanders was mailed the real disc. After the funeral we’re going to check it out.”

The Secretary looked at the far wall with a thoughtful expression. “This changes things, then.” He turned his gaze to Rabb. “I trust JAG’s judgment, Commander. Do you think that this tape is legit?”

“From what Jennifer Coleman said about the “extra precautions” her sister talked about last Saturday, Alicia did something over there that ticked somebody off, and she caught wind of it. She did what she had to do. Unfortunately, whoever killed her and her father planned ahead here in the States where she would feel…protected and safe. Her guard would be down.”

The Secretary rose to his feet. “I need to get back, Commander, but I just thought you ought to know that if you want to direct some of your anger, direct it to me.”

Rabb got to his feet and crossed his arms. “No, sir. I have no anger now. I actually have pity.”

The Secretary gave him a quizzical look. “Pity?”

“Yes, sir. Pity for anyone who gets in Mike Sanders’ way.”

************************************

Admiral Chegwidden sat back in his seat and folded his arms as Teri Tanner pressed the eject button on the disc player. “Well, that tears it. Sanders and Austin were in the right all along.”

Rabb and Mac sat in chairs in front of the admiral’s desk as Tanner took the disc out and set it on the desk. “How are you going to work it?”

“From the commander’s conversation with SECNAV, the powers that be are aware that we hold Sanders’ key in our hands. It cannot be denied. However, I have to agree with the Supreme Commander on this one. I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t heard anything about terrorists in the country. It would be best to keep him up there until the threat has been neutralized.”

“Or forgotten, which is what they might want to do with it, sir,” said Rabb.

“No, Commander, I don’t think so. Remember, we haven’t had a terrorist attack on our soil since 9/11. The government has worked very hard to make sure something like that is never repeated.”

Tanner took the conversation in with a gradual look of disgust growing on his face. “Excuse me, but with all due respect, we have the evidence to prove the innocence of two of our greatest war heroes. Why are we talking like we’re going to sit on it?”

“Because, Ms. Tanner, those same two war heroes, especially one who just lost his father-in-law and wife to a well-planned assassination attempt, would become reanimated, learn of this news and will want revenge.” Chegwidden leaned over and tapped the disc with his finger for emphasis. “The damage they by themselves would cause would make this tape look like a cartoon.”

The intercom buzzed on Chegwidden’s desk. “Excuse me.” He pressed the button. “Yes, Tiner?”

“Excuse me, sir. Lieutenant Singer has the information you were looking for, and request permission to bring it in.”

“Granted, Tiner. Thank you.” Chegwidden released the button and grabbed the disc as if to put it in his desk, but then pressed the intercom button again. “Tiner, could you come in here for a second, please?” He released it as the door opened and Lieutenant. Lauren Singer walked in, followed closely by Petty Officer Jason Tiner.

Singer walked past Mac and Rabb without a greeting and placed a folder on the admiral’s desk. “Here is the list of possible terrorist sightings in the past two weeks, sir. I was able to pull photos on four of them. It’s not a big list.”

Chegwidden thumbed through the list and sighed. “Thank you, Lieutenant.” He looked at Teri Tanner. “Ms. Tanner, this is one of my JAG attorneys, Lt. Singer, and my yeoman, Petty Officer Tiner.”

Singer looked at Tanner with a sense of recognition. “Ms. Tanner. You are a reporter, correct?”

“Yes, Lieutenant. I am.”

Singer smiled. “Excellent. That is a great profession. Perhaps you would like to do a story on JAG someday? I’m quite sure officers like the admiral and myself would make excellent subjects.”

Rabb and Mac looked at each other. Mac rolled her eyes to the ceiling.

“That would be an excellent idea, Lieutenant. I’m quite sure the admiral would allow that to happen in the near future, wouldn’t you agree, sir?”

Chegwidden looked at Singer. “That will be all, Lieutenant, thank you.”

Singer smiled at the admiral and moved towards the door. Tiner stepped aside to let her pass and moved to the desk as the door closed. “You wanted to see me, sir?”

Chegwidden handed him the disc. “Yes, find two recorders and make a copy of this disc for me. Bring Gunny Galindez or Top Torres in on it, but other than the people in this office, those two men, and Lt. Roberts, no one else should see what’s on it without my consent. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” Tiner looked at Tanner. “Excuse me, Ms. Tanner? May I have your autograph?”

“That will be all, Tiner.”

************

Jen sat in her wheelchair by the front door leading to the MAC flight airport, taking a big drag off of a cigarette. She realized that she had never smoked the one she lit before…

No…

Fighting back a sniffle, she took another drag as a second car pulled in front of the airport. A somewhat familiar Naval lieutenant got out of the driver’s side and went to the back door to permit Admiral Chegwidden and Commander Rabb to exit
the car.

Rabb looked around before seeing Jen and started walking in her direction, but stopped when he saw the cigarette. “Uh, Jen, what are you doing?”

“Don’t start, Harm. This is about the only thing that keeps me sane, OK?” She took another drag. “I had to hear the riot act from Mom for an hour last night.”

Rabb nodded, knowing that she is not going to heal overnight. “How long did the doctor say you’re going to be off your feet?”

“For about a month. Then I start rehabbing, but I think I’m going to do my rehab at Chapel Hill. Mom said that after everything’s settled she’s going to come and stay up there with me for a couple of weeks, maybe months. Who knows?” She sighed. “I’m wondering what she’s going to do with the kids. Trying to keep them straight and help me at the same time. It’s going to be a pain.”

“You have each other, and that’s counts,” said Chegwidden. “You two need each other now more than ever.” He looked at his watch and nodded at Roberts, who smiled at Jen as he went inside the airport. “Bud’s going to see if your flight is ready, and also to make sure everything’s loaded up and ready to go.” He left out the part of her father’s body being loaded in the cargo section of the plane.

The airport front door opened and Maggie Coleman exited the building, followed by her sister. “Harm, Admiral. You didn’t have to drive all the way up here.”

“Well, we’re sorry that we can’t go any further with you, Miss Coleman, but we want to let you know that all of JAG will be thinking about you during this trying time for you and your family.”

“Thank you, Admiral. I really appreciate it very much.” She turned to Jen, who had just put her cigarette out in the ashtray beside her. “Are you ready, Hun? They’re going to put you on first.”

“Yeah. I’ll be there in a minute, Mom. I need to talk to Harm in private.”

Maggie nodded, and she and the admiral walked into the building. Harm squatted in front of Jen. “What’s up?”

“Harm, are they going to release Mike?”

“Well, we’re going to have to wait and see. Those same terrorists that went after you are still out there, and if Mike was on the street, well, I’ll feel bad for the poor soul who pissed him off.”

Jen nodded once and held her arms out. Harm sat up and gently embraced her. “I’m going to miss you, Harm.”

“I’m going to miss you, too, kiddo. When I find out anything, you and your mom will be the first to know.”

An audible beep sounded from Rabb’s jacket pocket. He pulled himself away from Jen and reached for his global. “Hmm.  Mac never sends me a text message.”

Jen looked at Rabb as his face fell to one full of fury. He closed it up and replaced it in his pocket. “Dammit!”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ll tell you as soon as I find the admiral. C’mon.” Harm went behind Jen’s chair and grabbed the handles, pulling her backwards into the building. Once he was clear of the doors, he swung the chair 90 degrees so Jen was now in front. Quickly he steered the chair over to where the admiral was standing with Bud and the Coleman sisters. The stroller holding the triplets was mercifully silent for the moment.

“Admiral, you’re not going to like this,” said Harm as he drew closer to the group.

“What’s on your mind, Commander?”

“Mac just sent me a message. Webb’s at the office.”

“So? Webb’s always there, usually with a trick up his sleeve or if he wants….” Chegwidden’s voice trailed off as his eyes widened.

Rabb nodded. “He’s there for the disc.”

************

“Webb, you are crazy. What makes you think that recording is going with you?”

Lieutenant Col. MacKenzie stood in front of the admiral’s office with her hands on her hips. Her gaze bore down hard on the man standing in front of her, an equally penetrating stare returned to the Marine.

Clayton Webb has been a participant with and against JAG in some of their games. Obviously he was willing to play this one. “Colonel, I understand what you are doing and you can stop being the bouncer for one of those clubs in Georgetown. I’ll be more than happy to sit and talk to Lieutenant. Sims or Tiner until the admiral returns.”

“No, you will sit and talk to me in my office.”

Webb sighed. “Very well.”

Mac waved him forward ahead of her. “Don’t think I’m letting you out of my sight.” She looked toward Tiner, Lt. Sims and Gunnery Sgt. Galindez who were gathered in the center of JAG’s administration section. “No one goes into the admiral’s office without my permission.”

“Yes, ma’am,” said all three in unison.

Mac turned and went into her office. Webb was already seated in one of the chairs in front. She closed the door and sat down behind her desk. “Webb, what is all this about?”

Webb leaned forward. “Mac, I like Mike Sanders just like anyone else, and I feel bad for what happened to his family. I really do. When I first heard about this disc, I was for one ready for some payback to be done.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled a folded piece of paper out, which he held out to Mac. “Then I got this.”

Mac took the paper and unfolded it, but didn’t even need to read anything else except the top of the page. “A search warrant?”

“The government is not taking any chances, Colonel. In order to smooth over relations overseas, they will risk having a few terrorists running around here for a few days, and risk the displeasure of Mike Sanders…in less than fifty years. They want that disc.”

“This is ludicrous, Webb. The government needs to own up to the fact that two innocent men need to be released.”

“It doesn’t matter, Colonel. Even if you get a new trial with the evidence, the government will make a motion to suppress it for the good of the nation.” Webb leaned back in his chair. “I’m sorry, Mac, but like it or not, I have to leave here with that disc.”

The intercom buzzed on Mac’s desk. She pressed the button. “Yes, Tiner?”

“Ma’am, the admiral and commander are back. They’re waiting for you and Special Agent Webb in the admiral’s office.”

“Thank you, Tiner.” Mac released the button and rose from her chair. “We’ll have to see what the admiral thinks about this.”

Mac rose from her chair and led Webb out of her office back to where they faced off minutes ago. Tiner, sitting at his desk, nodded at the colonel as she walked by. She knocked on the door and pushed it open.

Chegwidden stood behind his desk, with Rabb standing beside the fireplace, not acknowledging the newcomers. On the admiral’s desk laid the disc.

Mac’s eyes widened in shock. “Sir, you can’t!”

Chegwidden held up a hand. “Colonel, we have no choice. I was on the phone in great length with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Navy, and Webb’s boss at the CIA. Their orders stand.”

Chegwidden lowered his hand to pick up the disc and held it out to Webb. “Mr. Webb, is this what you’re looking for?”

Webb walked over and accepted the tape. “Admiral, for what it’s worth, this is over my head, too.”

“I know, Webb. Wouldn’t be a first time, huh?”

Webb started to reply but decided against it. He nodded to the admiral and Mac and looked briefly at Rabb, who still ignored him. Shrugging slightly, he turned around and exited the office.

As soon as the door closed, Chegwidden sat down. “Commander, you can drop the act now.”

Rabb looked at the admiral and grinned. “How did I do, sir?”

“You performed admirably. Colonel, you too.”

Mac looked dumbfounded.  “Excuse me but did I miss something here?”

“Probably, Colonel, which played to our advantage. You remember when I asked Tiner to make a copy of the disc?”

Mac thought back and then smiled. “So they can have the original, then?”

“The original? No, we want them to think that they have the original, but all they have is the copy.” Chegwidden pulled a side drawer opened and reached in, pulling out a disc
similar to the one Webb left with. “We still have the original.”

Mac smiled. “All right, so what are we going to do now, though? If we try to come forth with a new trial, the government will simply suppress the evidence for the sake of national security.”

Chegwidden nodded, looking at Rabb with a smile. Rabb smiled back.

“We’re going to take it underground. Let the small political newsletters, the internet sites, the freelance reporters, anyone who is in for the importance of it, and not the money.”

Chegwidden stopped when an audible knock was heard at his door. “Come.”

The door opened and Teri Tanner entered with a stack of manila folders and a data pad cradled in her arm.  Not to mention the smile on her face. Chegwidden rose and pointed at her.

“And she will be the one to do it.”

FIN

************

In the second story, “Redemption – Volume 2: Awakening,” the Federation, twenty-five years later, finds itself under constant attack from an unknown enemy, but not before making an unexpected and historic discovery.

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