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Books by Quantum Muse contributors and friends.
A Felony of Birds

by
Harris Tobias
The Greer Agency

by
Harris Tobias
Alien Fruit

by
Harris Tobias
The Dreaming Fire

by
Jeromy Henry

Song of Ithaca

by

Branden Szabo



I

Lieutenant Lionel Braxton knocked on his commanding officer’s door with bloody knuckles.

“Come in.”

Captain Pete McDowell was a portly man whose large head teetered on his neck like a bell.  He was at his desk when he noticed Lionel lingering about the doorway in a messy uniform two sizes too big. 

“Don't just stand there, come in and take a seat.”

Lionel did so.  The piercing shriek of aircraft landing on the flight deck above shook the room.  With one hand, McDowell stopped a lamp from falling off his desk.  It was always like this, the Rica Akane was only the most feared carrier on the ocean as long as it had planes in the air.

“So … how bad was it?” McDowell asked. 

“Um,” Lionel crossed his arms across his stomach, “It was rough.  The rebels had us marked the moment we landed.  We reached the city before nightfall but … forget about it, the marines got the job done.”

“And the refugees?”

“They’re all safe.  For now.  Um, we weren’t expecting so much resistance, I figure we had about 18 killed and … I don’t know, maybe 50 or so wounded?”

“Understandable,” McDowell said it with placid confidence.  It was as if he’d say the same thing to any figure Lionel dropped.  “At least you saved the refugees; that’s what we were paid to do.  We could use the good publicity too - mercenaries like us don’t get many holiday cards.”

“I guess that’s one way to look at it.”

McDowell swung his gut towards Lionel and made eye contact.  “You’re a good physician Braxton.  You did a good job today and you have my gratitude for it.  But I need you to do it again.  We’re about to cross paths with a ballistic missile cruiser from Newport Capitol: the Ithaca.  I can’t discuss details but between you me; she’s the most important boat on the water right now.  They lost their physician a few weeks ago so I’m sending them you for three months until they can find a replacement.”

“Do I have any say in this, sir?”

“You act like I’m telling you to cut the lawn.”

“I didn’t mean –"

“You should be more motivated, the Ithaca needs a good doctor like you aboard.”

“I understand that but –"

“But what?”

Lionel slapped his hands against the table.  “Would you let me talk, please?”  The following silence was awkward but hospitable for conversation.  “… I’m tired.  Yesterday, I had to amputate a Machinist’s mate’s left arm.  It got infected – I did everything I could to save it but … sir, he’s only twenty-two years old.”

“Did he live?”

“Yes.”

“Isn’t that all that matters?  Pack your bags and be ready in four hours.  And before you leave, find a uniform that actually fits you.”

#

The island nation of Newport Capitol was surrounded by dangerous littorals kept safe only by warships for hire like the Rica Akane.  If it weren’t for them, pirates would seize her trade routes and rivals would attack at will.  Every day was war for a sailor; it was the status quo, interrupted only by the false security of peace.

Lionel often wondered how he got himself into such a dangerous line of work.  He was born at sea to his mercenary parents. He learned the basics of battlefield surgery before learning to ride a bike.  Now at the vivacious age of 26, he was among the proud ranks of the Navy Medical Corps.  He became a mercenary just like his parents, but he cared not for glory.  His job was to save the poor fools who did.

Lionel knew the Ithaca by reputation only.  Newport Capitol hired hundreds of warships that came and went; currency only bought loyalty when there was no one else offering more of it.  But the Ithaca was different.  Displacing roughly 7,000 tons, it was a unique Venta-class cruiser with sophisticated electronic warfare abilities and a laser defense system so advanced it was virtually untouchable by anything above the water.  In a world where most ships were lucky just to scrap up a functioning anti-aircraft turret, the Ithaca was the most dangerous creature afloat.    

It was raining when Lionel got his first look at the Ithaca.  The windows of his helicopter were streaked with silver lines of water that ran erratically down the glass.  He saw the back end of his new home rocking amid violent waves, momentary flashes of thunder turned the ship into a black silhouette against a scorching white background.  Once close enough, a winch was attached to the helicopter’s belly to ensure it landed square on the pad. 

The wind and rain blinded him as he stepped off the helicopter.  The deck rocked back and forth under his feet while an obscure voice beckoned him inside an open hatchway.

“Welcome aboard the Ithaca, Lieutenant Braxton.  I’m Captain Delano.  We haven’t had a physician aboard for weeks, can’t tell you how much a relief this is.”

Images of new faces with the same wounds flashed through Lionel’s head.  More of the same he thought, until he reached out to shake Captain Delano’s hand.  She was a woman.  So was the young sailor beside her. 

So was every sailor aboard.

“They didn’t tell you, did they?” Delano asked him.

“Uh … they might have.  My skipper talks and I tend to drift.”

Delano was a smartly dressed brunette in her mid-thirties but most of her crew looked young enough to be in high school.  They all menaced him like angry birds on a telephone wire suggesting that his presence was the last thing they wanted.

Captain Delano motioned to a young lady beside her; a short creature with almond brown hair tied into two childish pigtails that ran down her shoulders.  Her uniform was a mess, the ribbon under her collar was crooked and she missed the last button on her shirt.  A tight skirt frayed with hard work came down to her knees.    

“This is Seaman Mina Lockhart and she’s going to be your tour guide today.”

“I am?”

“We need Mr. Braxton to get familiar with the ship ASAP.  Is this a problem, Seaman Lockhart?”

“N-No ma’am.”

The hatchway was locked up and everyone returned to their posts, including Captain Delano.  Lionel cautiously looked down at Mina’s short form.  Her brow was creased with ire.

#

“I’m just as angry about this as you are,” said Lionel while he followed Mina throughout the ship. 

“Wanna bet?  Your stupid captain practically bullied ours into taking you.”

“You need a physician like me aboard.”

Mina was so short she had to jump through the hatches as they went.  “Why?  Are you doctor-of-the-year or something?”

“Look, you’re not even old enough to wear a bra, who made you queen of the boat?”

“I’ve served aboard the Ithaca for a year now.”

“I’ve been at sea my entire life.”

“Screw you.”

“Screw yourself.”

“It’s bad luck to have a man aboard.”

“You’ve reversed that little superstition perfectly, haven’t you?”

Mina opened the hatch ahead and motioned inside.  “This is sick bay.  You’ll stay in here if you know what’s good for you.”

Two sailors were waiting to greet him in sick bay.  To his left, a freckled-face girl with curly blonde hair extended a jubilant hand.  “Hello there doc, the name’s Claire Fields: Seaman 1st class and doctor of romance.  Leave the broken hearts to me.”

“Don’t listen to her,” Mina snapped, “She thinks she’s some kind of love guru just because she’s got like ten boyfriends.”

“That you know of,” Claire added with a coy smirk.

Beside her was a towering sailor with messy black hair that covered her eyes.  She cracked her knuckles: “Gunner’s Mate Ruth Barker.  Delano told me to look after your needs but if you know what’s good for ya, you won’t ask for shit.”

Lionel stepped out of her way and took a look around his new sick bay.  It was as clean as it was organized, but wouldn’t stay that way.  Soon there would be blood on the floors and writhing bodies on beds.  There would be a terrible stench of medicine and the shrill cries of human pain.  Lionel was prepared for all this of course, but there arose a complication he hadn’t considered until now. 

“Yo, earth to doc,” Claire called. “Everything okay in Lionel-land?”

“Uh, yeah, sorry, it was nothing.”

#

Lionel slept alone in a hospital bed out of convenience his first night aboard.  He always kept a digital recorder on his person just in case he felt the urge to share his feelings in private and tonight warranted just such an occasion.  He discussed his hopes and fears about the coming months, as well as another subject one his mind.    

“I’m used to operating on sailors - pulling their guts out, listening to their screams … but I’ve never operated on a woman before.”

He flipped the recorder off and sighed.

II

Lionel passed a terrible first week fraught with the difficulty of acclamation.  He retired to the Galley after a particularly hard morning only to find it bursting at the seams with sailors.  He pushed his way towards an open chair.

“That seat is taken.”  Ruth’s voice was sharp and aggressive.  She occupied the table Lionel was trying to sit at. Around her, four other sailors giggled like minions. 

Lionel pointed to another free seat. “And that one?”

“Taken.”

“Should I assume every empty seat is taken?”

“Yup.”

“Want to tell me where I should sit then?”

“The floor?”

Lionel slammed his tray onto the table.  “I spend twelve hours a day pulling shrapnel out of brats like you – I’m not sitting on the floor.”

After entertaining a quick staring contest, Ruth punched Lionel square in the jaw with enough force to knock him over.  It took several seconds for the young lieutenant to register what had happened.  Everyone was laughing at him.

Ruth addressed her four groupies: “If anyone asks about this, tell them he grabbed my ass, got it?”

#

Per Ruth’s orders, the crew did whatever they could to make Lionel feel unwelcome.  Claire was the only sailor who visited him regularly; she seemed to think her position as “doctor of romance” entitled her to share a desk with him.  He hadn’t seen Mina at all.

His very first patient was the product of an accident during a call to general quarters; she tripped and fell down the stairs.  It was none other than Ruth herself.  She was unconscious when two of her minions dragged her into sick bay; red streaks ran down her raven black hair.  It was nothing Lionel couldn’t handle.

“Why?!” she yelled at him after waking up. “Let me guess, you expect me to like you now?”

Lionel pulled a surgical glove off his hand with a loud snap that secured her attention.  “No.  I can tell you’re not one to give respect easily.  But, seeing as I just put your brains back into place, all I ask for is a chance to prove myself.”  He leaned into her.  “Translation: stop telling everyone I grabbed your ass.  Got it?”

The wound caused by Ruth’s false accusation started to heal after that, the crew started to visit him freely and without prejudice.  Most had waited far too long to get treated for basic ailments.

“What deep-sea trench is Seaman Lockhart hiding in?” Lionel asked Claire on a slow night.

 “Don’t take it personally, she doesn’t hate you, she’s just upset that we have a man onboard.  It’s bad luck, you know.”

“Why is this ship women-only in the first place?”

“It was a requirement when we got sponsored.”

“Sponsored?  By whom?”

“Newport Capitol and a handful of big-shots.  One of them is the captain of the Rica Akane, I think.”

Lionel wasn’t surprised, his skipper would cross rivers and climb mountains to look good and sponsoring the first all-female ship was the progressive mother-load.  To him, good intentions were more important than the consequences they brought.

“You guys aren’t mercenaries?” Lionel asked.

“Nope.  Every girl aboard is local.  We’re still paid but we’d never work for another island-nation.”

Lionel changed the bandage on a wounded girl from engineering.  She was sleeping off an injury she got when the ship was attacked by pirates, she was the only casualty praise be.  She looked no more than twenty-one years old. 

“What’s with the frowny-face?” Claire asked. “You upset?”

“Maybe,” Lionel said with a pensive sigh. “I wonder how de-humanized the people of Newport have become. It’s bad enough they want to send young men to their deaths … now they want to send girls, too.”

III

Lionel was summoned to CIC during a routine patrol around Newport Capitol’s waters.  The entire ocean was covered in fog so thick you couldn’t tell where the water ended and the sky began.  Captain Delano drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair.

“I don’t blame you for being worried,” Lionel said.

“Last thing we need is to bump into another warship in this mess.  Fog plays hell with our systems.  Ugh, that’s it, we’re turning around.  You know Massillon Code?”

“Enough to get by.”

Delano scribbled onto a notepad.  “Could you get a message to - ”

A voice shot through the intercom:  “CIC, Sonar, contact bearing 412.  Slavak-class attack frigate.”

Delano and Lionel grabbed their binoculars.

“Found it,” said Lionel. “It’s a big mother flying the blue rhombus; it has to be from the Kasavana Islands.”

The Kasavana Islands were Newport Capitol’s biggest competitor.  It was a nation of egotistic cavaliers who routinely sparred with Newport for the sheer fun of it.  The Ithaca was called to General Quarters immediately.

“Come right 20 degrees,” Delano ordered, “reduce speed to 25 knots.  Damn it, the Kasavana Island are days away from this position, why would one of their ships be way out here?”

Lionel didn’t say it out loud, but sinking the most dangerous ship in the world would be a feather in anyone’s cap.

#

It didn’t take long for the force of combat to rock the ship back and forth.  Close-in laser weapon systems sliced incoming missiles to pieces but the resulting debris struck the Ithaca’s hull with deafening results like hundreds of stray bullets.  The Ithaca’s own missiles soared into the sky upon pillars of white clouds and slammed into the frigate again and again. 

The lights in Sick Bay flickered as the ship accumulated more and more injury.  While washing his hands of blood, his nose caught a smell that would strike fear into any sailor.

The intercom crackled: “Fire below deck!  Fire below deck!”

Claire rushed into Sick Bay wearing a fire suit and helmet.  “T-The automatic extinguisher is shot and we’ve got an unchecked blaze, we need your help.”

“I’ve got a patient right now.”

The ship gyrated; Lionel leaned over his patient to keep her from flying across the room.

“Listen,” Claire’s hands were shaking, “the fire is spreading towards the missiles.  If we don’t stop it, this whole ship is going to be blown twenty feet out of the water.  You have to help us!”

The passageways were so chocked with black smoke that anyone caught without a gas mask was immediately incapacitated.  Coughing sailors weakly dragged themselves across the floor and away from the heat.  By the time Lionel reached the fire, there was only one person left fighting it: Mina.

Lionel aimed a fire hose at the heart of the blaze.  “Get out of here!” he said to her.

“I just need a few more minutes, it’s almost out!”

Lionel felt the painful lick of fire against his skin.  His mind became clouded; he could feel the fire engulfing him, filling his lungs with lethal tendrils of heat.  Being a physician, he was used to pain and death but in the end; it was his own death that scared him the most.  He dropped his hose and ran away. 

Even without Lionel, Mina managed to extinguish the fire all by herself and save the ship from certain destruction.  But she couldn’t save herself.  Moments after the fire was out, the Ithaca was hit with an anti-ship missile that slipped through the laser weapon shield.

Mina was rushed into surgery before Lionel could comprehend her injuries; she was bleeding so fast blood was splattering against the floor like water.  Ruth cut her out of her clothes with quivering hands while Claire brought Lionel’s surgical kit.  He activated a laser-scalpel and held it over her legs; the heat melted the hair off her skin.  When he cut into her, her screams reached every deck on the ship.

Dawn was already bursting through the clouds when Lionel put the last stitches into Mina’s broken form.  He wiped the blood off his watch and took a look.  The sick bay was quiet, the battle was over and his patients were sleeping off their injuries.  He dared not ask Captain Delano who won the day. 

Lionel added a chapter to his recorded diary.  “There’s a big-mouthed girl onboard who hates me, her name is Mina Lockhart.  Today, she put out a fire near the missile silos and saved the boat.  But she got hurt bad.  Very bad.  Her legs were shattered by debris but I sedated her and managed to stop the bleeding.  I saved her.”  Lionel began to cry slowly.  “I saved her.  After I amputated her legs, I removed the shrapnel.”  He choked on a swollen throat. 

I took her legsGod help me, I took her legs.

#

Mina was a popular girl but Lionel couldn’t tolerate half the ship visiting her so he closed his doors to everyone but patients.  Captain Delano visited her a few times but said little.  After all, what was there to say? 

In an effort to bribe Mina into starting rehabilitation, Lionel bought her a pack of chocolate.  He had spent half the day searching for it when the Ithaca made port.

“Why chocolate?” Mina asked him.  It was the first thing she had said in days.

“I’m no expert on the female race but I hear they love the stuff.”

Mina took a small bite.  Then another.  “… I guess there are worse things to lose than legs.  I was never into sports and all I did was play video games until my parents threw me into the navy.”

“Doesn’t mean you should dodge rehabilitation.  You need your other limbs now more than ever.”

Mina’s nostrils clogged up.  She shuddered with grief. “How am I going to tell my parents about this?”

“Give it time.  I’m not going to lie like other doctors and tell you it’ll be easy, because it won’t be.”

“Oh, what the hell do you know?  You didn’t get your legs blown to bits!  The only reason you’re even talking to me is because you got kicked off your own ship – don’t pretend to care about me.”

Lionel abruptly hefted her from her hospital bed and put her in a wheel chair.  “Mina, you’re a loud-mouthed and thick-headed little princess.”

Fuming, she waited for him to finish the insult.

“… but it’s something I’ve come to admire.”

#

Lionel had assisted many wounded sailors with rehabilitation but none of them were as ill-tempered and ungrateful as Mina.  She complained when he pushed her wheel chair too slowly, whined when it went too fast, threw a hissy fit when her rehabilitation exercises were too hard and so on.  It made the next month drag on slowly. 

But there were good times.  At the end of every day, they swapped mundane stories about their lives before the navy.  Mina saw fit to dredge up stories about every bad date she ever had.  “My plan is to get married before I turned twenty-five.  I’ve got three years left to meet that deadline.  The more guys I go through, the faster I’ll meet Mr. Right.” 

Lionel’s happiness turned to remorse; he had remained ignorant of her age for a reason.

When the Ithaca sailed into port to re-fuel, a local news crew came aboard to make a documentary about the ship.  The working title was The Ithaca – Newport Capitol’s first step towards gender equality in battle.  There were reporters on every deck interviewing everyone from engineering to sonar. 

There were no cameras in sick bay.  No one wanted to see that.

IV

Lionel grabbed his ears and banged his head against a bulkhead.  The Ithaca was in a precarious situation, it had sailed into a trap.  Automated artillery cannons from the long-abandoned Freskan Peninsula were programmed to bombard anything that came in range – indefinitely.  They were laughably inaccurate though, as long as the Ithaca moved slowly, it wouldn’t be hit.  But after three days of constant bombardment the crew was starting to suffer.

No one onboard could sleep for more than fifteen minutes at a time.  Lionel handed out as many personal music devices he could but there weren’t enough to go around.  Delano was slowly inching the ship to safety but no one knew how long that would take. 

There was a commotion in the Galley.  Claire was totally naked, running around the ship and raving like a lunatic.  Black ribbons of fatigue were painted under her eyes.  When Lionel finally caught her and dragged her into in Sick Bay, he asked for an explanation.  She giggled madly and urinated on his feet. 

“Help her – now!” Ruth said.

“It’s shell shock, there’s nothing I can do.”

Claire ran away and stuck her head into the toilet.  The water insulated her from the maddening sound of explosions.

“Can’t you give her a sedative?” Ruth asked.

“I don’t have enough to spare,” said Lionel coldly.  “Get her out of sick bay before she scares the shit out of everyone.”

     *Click*

Ruth pulled the hammer back on her handgun setting it to single-action.  The lightest pull of the trigger would mean Lionel’s death.  “You’re going to help her, and you’re going to help her now.  Understand me Braxton?”

Lionel’s trembling fingers grasped a sedative with Claire’s name on it.

#

The explosions finally subsided that night; Lionel dared to uncover his ears to confirm it.  Delano had come through.  As soon as everyone fell into their bunks, Lionel summoned Ruth to sick bay.

“I could throw you in the brig for what you did, you know?” he said.

Ruth glared at him from under her messy hair.  “You think I’m a loose cannon don’t you?”

“Don’t flatter yourself; I think you’re a brainless thug.  What do you expect me to think?  You put a gun in my face!”

She tossed him a doll of all things, Lionel had trouble believing a woman like Ruth would keep something so adorable.

She snorted.  “Hmph, are you surprised I like dolls?”

“I-I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t need to,” she pointed to herself. “People see a six foot tall girl like me and assume I’m some kind of butch tomboy.  They think I’m un-feminine.  That’s why I ride your ass like I do, the crew expects it.  But do you want to know the truth?”  She pulled her hair away from her face and closed her eyes.  When she opened them again, she became beauty itself.  She had sharp, feminine eyes defined by subtle mascara and her movements were smooth and confident like a supermodel’s.  Her pouting lips curled into a gentle smile.  “This is the real me.” 

Lionel could hardly believe this was the same girl who had punched him in the face. No man could ignore such imperial beauty.  “W-wow, um … why don’t you tell everyone the truth?”

“That I’m a girly-girl who likes make-up and dolls?  Fat chance, my friends would turn on me.”

“How would you know?  You haven’t told them.”

“I appreciate what you’re trying to do but - ”

Lionel showed her the doll like it was evidence at a trial.  “Tell them.  And keep track of anyone who gives you lip.  Because if you ask me, they aren’t your friends at all.”

#

After six months, the Ithaca was finally on its way home.  Soon, Lionel would return to the Rica Akane and the girls would see home for the first time in six months. Even so, Mina was too pensive to do her exercises.   

“I have connections with the Newport Capitol Medical corps,” Lionel began, “Before you see your parents, I can … talk to them about bionic legs.”

“You’re being nice – stop it before I start to like you.  I’ve seen bionic legs before and no, I don’t want to go home looking like a robot.”  She took a long, calming breath.  “What are you going to do when this is all over? Go back to your carrier?”

Lionel rocked Mina’s wheelchair back and forth.  “I guess so.”

With one finger, Mina traced the side of her leg down to where it ended just below the knee.  It was a ritual of hers; she did it every morning when she woke up.  Perhaps she was thinking maybe, just maybe it was all a dream and her legs were still there.

 “Want to know what I want?” she asked. “When this is over, I want you to come home with me.”

The gravity of Mina’s request caused Lionel to stumble for words.  War and his medical discretion had taken away her legs, perhaps she had forgiven him? 

She shook her head. “Forget it, it was a stupid thing to ask.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“Look at me.  I can’t even get out of bed without someone’s help.”

“I’m an early bird; I’ll be there to help you.”

“I hate doing my exercises.”

“Then I’ll bribe you with chocolate.”

“I might as well kiss my love life goodbye. Hard to look beautiful when you’re in a wheelchair.”

“You’re always beaut - ” Lionel cleared his throat.  “Er – um, you’ll be glad to hear Claire’s back to her normal self again, caught her giving relationship advice to Diane in sonar this morning.”

“Oh … good.”

There was an explosion that rocked the ship back and forth like a carnival ride.

“What was that?!” Mina asked.

It sounded like a torpedo explosion to Lionel.  The Ithaca was under attack.

#

Captain Delano was in CIC trying to rouse a ship full of tired sailors preoccupied with home.  The Ithaca’s Undine helicopters rose into the air to search for the enemy submarine but discerning its location would take time.  Meanwhile, the wounded Ithaca was limping away at a measly 9 knots.

“CIC, Engineering, the lower decks are starting to flood!”

“CIC, Supply, emergency purge systems have failed, the water has reached the crew compartments - close them up!”

“CIC, Sonar, contact bearing 479, we’ve found it.”

A torpedo struck the Ithaca’s hull and the subsequent explosion was so loud that it cracked the windows in CIC.

“Braxton, I need you down in Sick Bay,” said Delano. “Evacuate everyone!”

#

Mina struggled to move her wheelchair through a flooded sick bay while other patients scrambled over each other towards safety. Lionel found her just in time; he dove into the water and swam towards her.  “Hold your breath!” He scooped her up and got out of sick bay just before they dogged the hatches closed

Claire and a handful of others escaped onto Lionel’s deck in the nick of time.

“Wait, Ruth?” she asked. “Where’s Ruth? She was right behind me.”

The last hatch was closed and sealed.

“No!” Claire shrieked, “Ruth’s still in there; don’t close the hatches!”

She madly thrashed at the sailors holding her back. Lionel pulled her back, “Stop it!  You open those hatches and we all drown.  Claire!”

Claire stopped fighting as she came to accept the sad truth.   She cried into Lionel’s chest.

#

Captain Delano’s tenacity and a well-placed depth charge managed to sink the enemy sub.  Nobody cared.  The Galley was converted into a triage center for a ship full of wounded sailors who were supposed to be home by now.  Lionel stayed close to Claire who was resting in a corner with her face buried into her knees.

“No one understood Ruth like I did,” Claire said weakly.  She drew air into clogged nostrils.  “She’s the only one who knew the truth about me.  I … I tell everyone I’m the doctor of romance but the truth is I’ve never had a boyfriend.  I made everything up; I even wrote love letters to myself so the other girls would think I was a guy-magnet.  I’m pathetic.”

Lionel used Claire’s dazed state of mind as an excuse to clean a dark red laceration on her forearm with antibiotics.  He kept her occupied with conversation.  “I guess we all do what we can to fit in.  There’s nothing so painful as feeling like you don’t belong.  I can attest to that.”

Claire looked him in the eyes.  “We did so many terrible things to you.  Why are you so nice to us all?”

“Hmph,” Lionel rubbed his mouth, “That’s a good question.  Some time ago, the Rica Akane made port at some backwater island in the east.  I bought a book to pass the time.  I still can’t remember the title but I read it from cover to cover in one day.  It's message was quite simple: a true man helps all the women in his life, not just the one he loves.”

A glimmer of mischief returned to Claire’s features.  “Oh really?  Do I have to guess which woman on this ship you love?”

“It’s … not that simple,” Lionel said.

Captain Delano made her way over to them.  She handed Lionel a package.  “Take it.  It’s a gift from the rest of the crew.”

Lionel opened the package later that night.  It was a crisp Ithaca uniform modified for a man.  He shed his old Rica Akane uniform and tried it on.  It fit him perfectly.         

Two days later, the Ithaca limped into Newport Capitol. Two days too late for Ruth and 13 other unfortunate girls.

V

“Well done,” Capitan Pete McDowell clapped his hands together, “You came back in one piece.” 

The Rica Akane pulled into port at the same time as the Ithaca.  Standing on the dock, the ocean breeze chilled him.

“I’m glad the Ithaca was lucky enough to see so much action.  Guess we’ve proved that females are just as capable as males are in war.”

Lionel blinked.  “Thirteen sailors died, sir,” he said with an incredulous stare. “Many of them were my friends.”

“Sad, yes, but how many bad guys did they help kill?  I tell ya, when that senator grilled me for not hiring female sailors, I knew I had to do something.  This isn’t for the press, but I didn’t just sponsor the Ithaca, I created it.”

Lionel maintained a stupefied expression.  Across the dock, Claire, Mina and several other girls from the Ithaca all waited for him, their uniforms torn and their faces bruised like his.  He took a slow step towards his skipper. 

“Are you saying you intentionally put the Ithaca in harm’s way just so you could make a point?  To impress some senator?”

“Well, when you put it that way it seems callous - ”

Lionel shoved him.  McDowell stumbled back and made a fist but he didn’t lift it.  “I suppose you have an explanation for that.”

“Thirteen people died.  Was it worth it?”

Twilight in Newport Capitol was a sight to remember.  The sun gently shrank behind the horizon casting its last rays of light and turning the green grass gold.  The sky turned pink and the clouds turned black, crickets began to chirp one by one until the stars came out.

Mina stared at the glowing windows of her parent’s house.  Lionel rolled her wheelchair up to the driveway and angled her towards the front door.

“Are you ready?”  Lionel asked her.

With one hand, Mina interlocked her fingers with Lionel’s.  With her other, she knocked on her parent’s door.

Thank you for reading


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2015-11-14 15:32:58
r.tornello - loved it, great story/ RT




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